ISSN 1188-603X

No. 445 November 29, 2011 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2



Ronald Pelham Walker, affectionately known as RP of Christina Lake, passed away September 4, 2011 in the Palliative Care Unit at the Grand Forks Boundary Hospital. He was born on October 16, 1930 in Port Alberni, BC.

It is with profound sadness that our family has lost an incredible husband father and grandfather. Ron is survived by his wife Ollie of 59 years, children Danny (Teresa), Robert, Gordon (Leslie), Pat (Gavin), Allen, Keith (Kathy), Susan (George), grandchildren Christy, Gareth, Angela, Alexa, Caden, Danielle, Alex, Sean, Mathew and Zachary, brother Brian (Pat) and sister Joan.

Ron was a Meteorological Technician on Old Glory Mountain near Rossland from 1950 to 1952 when he met Ollie Phillips, his future wife. After a short time at Sandner's Sawmill at Christina Lake, he began his career at the Cascade Border crossing as a Customs Inspector where he stayed until retirement.

As well as raising 7 children, Ron & Ollie have owned and operated the Silver Birch Resort at Christina Lake since 1953. Ron was the Regional District Director of Area C for 11 years, where he was instrumental in bringing many improvement projects to the community. He was president of the Naturalist Club for many years as well as an active volunteer in many areas within the community. One of his special projects was the creation and maintenance of the many Bluebird Trails.


From: Bill Merilees

Describing Ron Walker is not an easy task. Many words readily come to mind. These include; friendly, outgoing, talkative, diligent, self confident, enthusiastic, perceptive, prepared, knowledgeable, opinionated and pragmatic. Ron liked to get things done; he was a redneck with a farmer's tan and he loved to tell stories and share anecdotes, and of these he had a vast repertoire. Most had a humorous component that would produce a chuckle. He did not suffer fools gladly but was always more than ready to help out when a situation required.

Above all Ron had an insatiable appetite for natural history, especially birds and plants of all types. Of the latter he amassed about 15,000 slides; of the former he personally witnessed more than 3,500 species, about 1/3 the world total! Around their Silver Birch Resort, on the shore of Christina Lake, (which he and his wife Ollie have managed for over 55 years) every visitor soon knew that birds were "Good"; squirrels, skunks and cats were "bad".

Ron's interest in Natural History was kindled in his youth, particularly in the South Okanagan where he lived from age 12 until high school graduation. In this endeavour he was entirely self taught. Though never a collector in the specimen sense, Ron instead would take photographs or a small piece of foliage, just enough so that he could identify a species accurately. Notes were then added to the margins of his reference material. Like most naturalists a few specimens, found as casualties, would accumulate in the family freezer. This occurred to such an extent that once Ollie slapped a frozen woodpecker on his dinner plate in protest!

In 1968, when the West Kootenay Bird Study Group came together via staff at Selkirk College, Ron became one of its earliest participants. As this group evolved into the West Kootenay Naturalists Association, a spin off group, The Boundary Naturalists Association formed in Grand Forks. Ron became one of its most energetic leaders. For eleven years he also served as an elected member to the Boundary Regional District board, enriching Christina Lake with many improvements, including tennis courts, for all to enjoy.

It was a job with the Federal Environment Program that brought Ron to the West Kootenay. For two years he was a meteorological technician at the Weather Station at the Summit of Old Glory, elevation 2,376 metres (7,795 ft.). A telephone, from this station connected to Rossland, allowed communication to the 'outside' world - and - the young female telephone operators that managed the switchboard. One of whom was Ollie Phillips.

Ron and Ollie were married in Rossland in 1952, and shortly thereafter settled in Christina Lake where they purchased the Silver Birch Resort. Ron later joined the Canadian Customs Service retiring after 30+ years service primarily at the Cascade Boarder Crossing. Some of his experiences appear in his book I Declare (2001). A second book, about his experiences on Old Glory, is due to appear shortly.

Ron and Ollie had seven children. Scouting and Guiding provided an important outdoor focus for the Walker family. They were further blessed with ten grand-children.

During his residence in the Boundary Country Ron acquired an exceptionally intimate knowledge of this area's flora and fauna. While he did not write or publish on these subjects he readily shared his knowledge with others. Sought out by experts, many range extensions and the discovery of species 'new to Canada and B.C.' can be directly credited to him. After retirement Ron and Ollie took 'time off' to travel, Ron preferring bird rich destinations, while Ollie's choices he called 'sissy trips'!

Well done good friend. Yours was a life well lived! We will all miss your good company and 'gusto'!


From: Ron Walker, I Declare- p. 213 [For his 2001 book I Declare, Ron Walker borrowed the title from the official document of the Canada Border Service Agency entitled I Declare - A guide for residents of Canada returning to Canada.]

One vehicle I was searching was a van that had one wall covered with partitioned shelves, each containing plastic bags with various herbs in them. Some were labelled and others were not. Two young men, who were very close friends, owned the van. They were ill at ease, thinking I might be picking on them as I paid special attention to the herbs. When I pulled out one large bag of plant leaves and held it up to the light, one of the young men said in a very meek voice, "Sir, it is not what you think it is." "You mean this is not Verbascum thapsus?" He stared at me in total disbelief and stammered, "Yes, yes it is!" I proceeded to identify several other packages of plant material by their botanical names. After firmly convincing them Canadian Custom Inspectors were the most knowledgeable in the world, I let them know it just happened to be a hobby of mine. We had quite a chat on various plants, their properties and where they were found. We parted good friends. They said getting through Customs was not the ordeal they thought it was going to be and hoped it would be as pleasant when they returned to the US.


From: Adolf & Oluna Ceska

Ron Walker's long service as a custom officer sharpened his observation skills to the point where he was able to read the mind of people he encountered.

In early summer of 2002, we were on an exploration trip for BOTANY BC in Castlegar, and we decided to check the Botrychium locality on Mount Kobau W of Osoyoos. For this part of the trip, we invited Ron Walker and our friend, a Botrychium specialist, Kathleen Ahlenslager from Republic, WA. We advised Kathleen to cross the Canada border north of Republic, WA and drive to Osoyoos on the Canadian side of the Canada/US border. We thought that Kathleen should see an interesting part of southern British Columbia. Kathleen crossed the US/Canada border somewhere close to Grand Forks and stopped in the first coffee shop to ask for directions. It happened that Ron Walker was in the very same coffee shop. Kathleen entered, looked around, but before she managed to ask, Ron Walker approached her and asked her, "Are you meeting Adolf and Oluna on Mount Kobau?" That was almost 3 hours driving distance from Kathleen's destination.


From: Hans Roemer

I had the pleasure getting to know Ron Walker during joint field trips in the summers of 1996 and 1997. Ron was an amazing field naturalist and botanist, considering that he was completely self-taught. He showed me locations of rare vascular plants I could never have found on my own. Ron's copy of the Flora of the Pacific Northwest (C.L. Hitchcock & A.Cronquist, condensed 1973 edition) was full of tiny scribbled notes on the edges, including locations where he had found the species described on that page. He knew every small corner of his region, the eastern part of southern British Columbia, from the Okanagan to the Alberta border. In one of his favourite secret spots near Castlegar Ron and I shared the excitement of discovering a species then unknown in Canada, Trichostema oblongum. In certain areas Ron would carry his notorious violin case. The content was for self defence and this curious habit was based on a too-close encounter with grizzly bears in earlier years. Ron was outspoken about certain topics, including politics or, for instance, the Doukhobors. His attitudes were those of a likeable "redneck", something one wouldn't expect from a person who devoted every free minute to finding interesting plants or to bird watching. Yes, bird watching was another passion of Ron Walker. When our contacts were only occasional because I had no excuse to go plant hunting with Ron, he would send me post cards from one of his excursions to exotic locales showing colourful birds and with every fraction of writable surface covered with raving accounts of his birding exploits. Eventually one of those post cards was the last piece of communication with Ron before we lost touch with one another.


From: G. Mitrow and P.M. Catling, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environmental Health, Biodiversity, Saunders Bldg., Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C6 Canada.
Small, E. 2011.
Top 100 exotic food plants. CRC Press, New York. 708 p. ISBN 978-1-4398-5686-4. Hardcover. Available from CRC Press.;jsessionid=9NRLdzz73zMtq9H-C31TCQ Price: $89.95

There are less than one hundred food plants that are very important to humans, but a few hundred more are already gaining importance, or could in the future. We have not yet imagined the potential value of hundreds of others. In many cases, we know little about them. Here Dr. Small has selected 100 of these "exotic" food plants and provided a wealth of information. This book is a companion to his Top 100 Food plants, for which he received the 2009 Lane Anderson Award for science popularization. As the saying goes - "What more can we say".

The author had a large and diverse audience in mind, and has written in a very user friendly style. The well organized and comprehensive information will be much appreciated by the scientific community (agriculture, horticulture, environment and medicine), by chefs and those with a love of cooking, by travellers, and by anyone with an interest in the most important commodity on earth. Some of the plants treated here are plants that have only recently found their way onto the shelves of stores in the western world. The purpose of this book is to focus on the increasing flow of plant products through world trade. It covers a diversity of food products and the value of eating a wide variety of plant foods, thus contributing to a healthier diet. The author hopes that by highlighting exotic plants, he will increase the diversity of crops around the world, leading to a safer and improved agricultural economy.

How many exotic food plants are there and what makes them exotic? There are at least a few hundred and "exotic" here means selected by the author. The selection is not just plants that Dr. Small likes (that too) but, includes the plants that meet some combination of the following criteria: (1) produced outside North America; (2) strange & exciting; (3) encountered in the English speaking Western world or by travellers; (4) important either globally or in particular regions; (5) lack of information in English on culinary aspects; (6) personal taste; (7) economic importance; (8) encountered in north temperate countries; (9) interesting; and (10) unfamiliar to people. Some plants and plant products that you might call "exotic," like banana, coconut, chocolate, date and pineapple, are not here because these were included in the earlier Top 100 Food Plants (Small 2009).

Since this is the author's selection of 100, naturally there are many other economically important plants that are not included, some exotic and some not. Among the species not included here are saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), pecans (Carya illinoinensis), pine nuts (Pinus pinea), hickory nuts (Carya cordiformis, Carya glabra, Carya myristicaeformis, Carya ovata, and Carya tomentosa), langsat (Lansium domesticum), salak (Salacca zalacca or Salacca edulis), karonda (Carissa carandas), maqui (Aristotelia chilensis) and jabotacaba (Myrciaria cauliflora). Here there are more, and/or different plants than in other books treating this subject area, or the treatment is much more complete than elsewhere. Among the many other books covering this subject to some extent are Jacques (1958), Schery (1972), Brouk (1975), Chan (1983), Hanelt (2001), Vaughan and Judd (2003), Biggs et al. (2006), and van Wyk (2006). These are listed in Appendix 3 of Top 100 food plants and in Appendix 2 of Top 100 exotic food plants. Readers of the latter will be especially interested in plants such as the largest seed in the world, the Seychelles Island Double Coconut (Lodoicea maldivica), the safe sweetener called Stevia (Stevia reboudiana), the key to immortality called Gogi (Lycium barbarum), and many others.

The plants included are those producing fruits, vegetables, spices, legumes, culinary herbs, nuts, and extracts. The treatment of each species provides information in a consistent format. It begins with an introductory paragraph with family and scientific name and clarification of other plant names. Next is "Plant Portrait" which includes a description of the plant, its native distribution, where it is cultivated, its uses, parts consumed, exports, and other aspects such as toxicity and use as medicine. Next a "Culinary Portrait" is provided including uses, preparation, effects and commercial products. Finally a section entitled "Curiosities of Science and Technology" includes a wide range of information. Treatments end with the "Key Information Sources" as well as "Speciality Cookbooks" which often includes more than a dozen references. Here the reader can find additional information on a variety of topics. The book actually contains more than 2000 literature citations. It is enhanced by more than 200 drawings, many chosen from historical art of extraordinary quality.

This scholarly and accessible presentation covers plants that have been the subject of sensationalistic media coverage and others that are controversial such as the acai berry (Euterpe oleracea), kava (Piper methysticum), hemp (Cannabis sativa), and opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Some of the information is fascinating and humorous. It is an entertaining learning experience as well as an authoritative source. It is also an excellent companion to the very successful Top 100 food plants. From household cooks to professional chefs, from university botany students to plant scientists, and from travellers to homebound, there is much here for everyone.

Send submissions to
BEN is archived at