The two tree types you mostly see along West Cliff Drive are the Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata). Both are often seen together and are native to the central Coast of California. They occur naturally only in a very few areas but you will see many in coastal California because they have been used widely in landscaping. All of the Monterey pines and Monterey cypress along West Cliff Drive have been planted.
The Monterey Pine
The Monterey pine is extremely well adapted to dry climates that occasionally have fires. Its cones stay for years on the branches, sealed with resin. During a fire the established tree usually dies, but the heat opens the cones which release many seeds that recolonize a new stand. Records of fossilized pollen show the Monterey pine used to be more widely distributed than it is currently. Its maximum distribution was during times of slightly cooler and wetter climates (i.e. between glacial and interglacial periods).
Monterey pines are currently threatened by a fungal disease known as pine pitch canker (Fusarium circinatum) which is native to the southeastern US. Once the trees become sick from the fungus, they attract the bark beetle which finally kills them. A very local example of the potential cascading effect of the disease happened at Natural Bridges State Beach.
In the 1990s, several Monterey pines became infected with the fungus and eventually were infested with the bark beetle and died. Those pines had sheltered a grove of eucalyptus trees, which provided monarch butterfly habitat. After the pines died, many of the eucalyptus trees blew over in a storm and the numbers of monarch butterflies overwintering at Natural Bridges have decreased significantly ever since.
The Monterey Cypress
The gnarled Monterey cypress is a favorite for photographers. There are only two native stands, both in Monterey County. They are not considered endangered because planted and native trees are not distinguished for the federal endangered designation. As long as they grow in the coastal fog belt, the Monterey cypress is very hearty. Trees from the two native stands in Monterey County are up to 2,000 years old. However when planted in places with hot summers they tend to get a fungus called cypress canker and die within a few years.
- Three Ways of Seeing Monterey Pines A post on the Town Mouse and Country Mouse native plants blog
- Coastal California’s Living Legacy: The Monterey Pine Forest. A Photo book by the Monterey Pine Forest Watch
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This piece is part of the West Cliff Drive Tour. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.
- Cupressus macrocarpa. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupressus_macrocarpa.
- Monterey Cypress Evolution. Rosemary Foster. Point Lobos Foundation Website. http://www.pointlobos.org/nature/plant-communities/monterey-cypress-evolution.
- The Monterey Pine Through Geologic Time. Frank Perry. Monterey Bay Paleontological Society Bulletin. May 2004. Monterey Pine Through Geologic Time.
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Western Region (National Audubon Society Field Guides). Elbert L. Little. Knopf; 1980. http://www.amazon.com/National-Audubon-Society-American-Trees-W/dp/0394507614.
- Personal Communication with Jackie Pascoe, Technical Writer and Native Plant Enthusiast, Santa Cruz County, February 2013.
- Pinus radiata. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_radiata.