Aerial view showing the location of the Dałk Gyilakyaw forest garden.

Forest garden study shows knowledge of traditional practices

December 22, 2021

SFU’s historical ecologists have found that Indigenous-managed forests—cared for as “forest gardens”—comprise more biologically and functionally diverse species than the surrounding conifer- dominated forests. They also create an important habitat for animals, and pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

The researchers have published their findings in Ecology and Society. The study, which is the first in North America to study Indigenous forest gardens, was led by SFU Indigenous studies professor Chelsey Geralda Armstrong.

Armstrong, who joined the Department of Indigenous Studies in early 2021, examined forest gardens that were once tended by Tsimshian and Coast Salish peoples living along the north and south Pacific coast. These forest gardens grow throughout remote archaeological villages on Canada’s northwest coast. They’re composed of native fruit and nut trees and shrubs, including crab apple, hazelnut, cranberry, wild plum, and wild cherries. Medicinal plants, wild ginger and wild rice root also grow in the understory layers.

“These plants never grow together in the wild,” says Armstrong. “It seemed obvious that people put them there to grow all in one spot— like a garden. Elders and knowledge holders talk about perennial management all the time.”

“Human activities are often considered detrimental to biodiversity, and indeed, conventional industrial land management can often have devastating consequences for biodiversity,” says Jesse Miller, study co-author, and a Stanford University ecologist and lecturer. “Our research, however, shows that human activities can also have substantial benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem function in the present and future.”