Thursday, 14 May 2020


Early Eocene Tapir from Driftwood Canyon
Driftwood Canyon in British Columbia is known for its beautiful early Eocene plants. It's not surprising to find wonderful wee mammals making a living in this warm, wet, steamy rainforest setting 51 million years ago.

Today, Driftwood Provincial Park is about halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert near the town of Smithers. The rocks that make up the strata here started out further to the south, riding geologic plates to their current location.

Along with the Tapir and a rather sweet hedgehog, we also find birds, insects, and a huge variety of fossil plants in these outcrops. Fossils of plant remains are rare but include up to 29 genera. The most common plant fossils found are leafy shoots of the dawn redwood, Metasequoia, and the floating fern Azolla primaeva as mats of plants or as isolated fossils.

Fossil fish from Driftwood Canyon in the Canadian Museum of Nature includes specimens collected in the 1930s; however, Driftwood Canyon fossils have only been studied since the 1950s.

The Driftwood Canyon fossil beds are best known for the abundant and well-preserved insect and fish fossils (Amia, Amyzon, and Eosalmo). The insects are particularly diverse and well preserved and include water striders (Gerridae), aphids (Aphididae), leafhoppers (Cicadellidae), green lacewings (Neuroptera), spittlebugs (Cercopidae), march flies (Bibionidae), scorpionflies (Mecoptera), fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae), snout beetles (Curculionidae), and ichneumon wasps.

A fossil species of green lacewing (Neuroptera, Chrysopidae) was recently named Pseudochrysopa harveyi to honour the founder of the park, Gordon Harvey. Fossil feathers are sometimes found and rare rodent bones are sometimes found in fish coprolites. Most recently, fossil palm beetles (Bruchidae) were described from the beds, confirming the presence of palms (Arecaceae) in the local environment in the early Eocene.

Alder, Alnus sp., still common today are also found, as well as the leaves or needles and seeds of pines, Pinus sp., the golden larch, Pseudolarix sp., cedars, Chamaecyparis and/or Thuja spp., redwood Sequoia sp., and rare Ginkgo and sassafras, Sassafras hesperia, leaves. A lovely permineralized pine cone Pinus driftwoodensis and associated 2-needle foliage were described from the site in the 1980s.

Rare flowers and the seeds of flowering plants have been collected, including Ulmus, Florissantia, and Dipteronia, a genus of trees related to maples, Acer. spp., that today grows in eastern Asia.

If you fancy a trip to Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, follow Driftwood Road from Provincial Highway 16. A car park just off the road access leads to an interpretive sign and a bridge across Driftwood Creek. A short interpretive trail leads visitors to a cliff-face exposure of Eocene shales. Signate speaks to how these beds were deposited in an inter-montane lake. Interbedded within the shales are volcanic ash beds, the result of area volcanoes that were erupting throughout the life of the Eocene lake that produced the shales.