Conifer Rarity in Southern California

Original Publication DATE: 3/17/2012

Work occasioned a trip to southern California which, of course, also required me to spend some time with a few regionally endemic conifers. I had never visited the Torrey pine or Cuyamaca cypress, so in planning the trip to Palm Springs for a conference, Allison and I took a few extra days–looping south toward the Mexican border–to see North America’s rarest pine and cypress.

Torry Pine (Pinus torreyana)

Rarity is a new endeavor for the Torrey pine. Though it is the current record-holder for “rarest North American pine” it has not always been that way. It is an ancient pine, whose lineage (or at least that of a near ancestor) extends back as far as the Oligocene or Miocene with a range that extended as far north as Oregon (Kral 1993). In the Pleistocene, the species probably ranged throughout the coastal basins of Southern California but became restricted to coastal San Diego County and Santa Rosa Island over the last 12,000 years or so, during Holocene warming (Waters and Schaal 1991). Its closest extant relative is probably the Coulter pine (Pinus coulteri).

Charismatic specimens are sculpted by the pervasive wind, fed by moist coastal fog, and nourished by the sandstone on which they root.

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