Thanks to the contributions of two energetic people who know plants, chavezpark.org is publishing a complete botanical inventory of the park. Jutta Burger PhD is Lead Scientist for the California Invasive Plant Council, and Bob Huttar is a certified arborist and a consulting field biologist specializing in botany generally and rare plants in particular. Together they are photographing and identifying everything that grows in the park, both common and scientific names. They’ve done the scientific heavy lifting. I’m adding some background blog-talk. We’re publishing the results in a series, with a new installment every Friday.
This week features five evergreen trees, namely the Bishop Pine, the Monterey Cypress, the Sitka Spruce, the Torrey Pine, and the Santa Cruz Island Ironwood. All are California natives, and three of them are rare.
(1) Bishop Pine
The Bishop Pine (Pinus muricata) is a California native that prefers to stay at home; it is so rare in Mexico that it’s considered endangered there. It particularly loves the California coast, but in rough coastal exposures will grow only in stunted, twisted form. Its cones stay tightly closed until very high heat, especially fire, forces them open and releases the seeds. The trees in Bob Huttar’s photos are growing in the forest grove on the west side of the park. Links: CalPhotos Wikipedia Calflora, Calscape.
(2) Monterey Cypress
The Monterey Cypress (Hesperocyparis macrocarpa) once formed a very large west coast forest. Today it is reduced to a pair of small but dramatically picturesque groves near Monterey and Carmel, particularly in Point Lobos State Reserve, where it gets an almost constant bath of coastal fog. There isn’t quite as much fog here, but enough to sustain these specimens that Bob and Jutta photographed. The tree has been exported and planted in many parts of the world, and has thrived particularly in New Zealand, where growing conditions are better than in its home range.
(3) Sitka Spruce
The Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) is native to the North Coast of California, where it easily holds its own among other local giants. Only the Coast Redwood and the Coast Douglas Fir are taller. It’s the fourth or fifth largest conifer in the world. It can exceed 300 feet in ideal conditions. Here in the park, where Bob photographed it, conditions keep it to a more modest size.
Apart from its use for timber, for which it has been logged almost to death, this tree has some specially desirable features.
Sitka spruce is used widely in piano, harp, violin, and guitar manufacture, as its high strength-to-weight ratio and regular, knot-free rings make it an excellent conductor of sound. For these reasons, the wood is also an important material for sailboat spars, and aircraft wing spars (including flying models). The Wright brothers‘ Flyer was built using Sitka spruce, as were many aircraft before World War II; during that war, aircraft such as the British Mosquito used it as a substitute for strategically important aluminium.
(4) Torrey Pine
Finding Torrey Pines (Pinus torreyana) in the park came as a surprise to Bob Huttar. The Torrey Pine is a rare, critically endangered native that grows wild now only in isolated coastal strips near San Diego and on two of the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara. The plant, however, is available commercially in nurseries and is frequently planted to create or restore native habitats.
(5) Santa Cruz Island Ironwood
Jutta Burger exclaimed with surprise when she saw this tree in the Native Plant Area. The Santa Cruz Island Ironwood
(Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius ) is a California native, but not found all over the state. Its tiny home is the chaparral and oak woodlands of the rocky coast canyons of the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara, and in that territory it’s becoming rare. It is available in the nursery trade, but to find one growing here was most unexpected. Its cluster of white flowers attracts numerous pollinating insects. See more photos on CalPhotos, and read about it at CalFlora and Calscape.