Monday, February 7, 2011

The One and Only Torrey Pine

Around campus, every other street is named either 'blah-dah-blah La Jolla' or 'something-or-other Torrey Pine'. Torrey Pines is also a famous golf course, a State Reserve, a high school, a research institute, a bank, etc. Why are all these places named Torrey Pine?! The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine in the United States and the only location it can be found naturally (on the mainland) is a small area in Del Mar and La Jolla. It is also found on one of the Channel Islands, Santa Rosa, off the coast of Santa Barbara. The Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana) has two varieties. Pinus torreyana var. torreyana our local Torrey Pine and Pinus torreyana var. insularis is the scientific name for the island Torrey Pine.

If you look around campus now, you will notice many trees at entrances of colleges and the university itself have yellow blossoms that look like the picture to the right. Torrey Pines bloom in late January and early February. The yellow buds are the male 'strobili', the fancy name for flower, sheds a mist of yellow pollen. The pollen coats the female strobili, which looks like a miniature red cone. The mature version is pictured above to the left. These specific pine cones take three years to fully grow, unlike most other pines whose cones develop in two years. Yes, that means that the cones that you see on Torrey Pines are three years old. Even though pine cones are still fun to play soccer with on the way to class, keep in mind that these beauties did not form overnight.
An easy way to identify a Torrey Pine when it is not blossoming is to count the needles in each cluster. The Torrey Pine is the only native tree in the area with five needles. Other pines with five clusters are White Pines, Pinus strobus, native to the east coast. The closest native five needled tree to La Jolla is the False White Pine, pinus pseudostrobus, endemic to Mexico.
All pine nuts are edible, although many are extremely hard. The Torrey Pine's nut was an important source of food for the Kumeyaay tribe, the original inhabitants of this area.
One last note about Torrey Pines. Torrey Pines State Reserve is located on the cliffs. The soil in these areas is sandy and often times rocks cover the area in which these pines grow. How are Torrey Pines able to survive here? They have amazing root systems. By the time it is forty feet high, the root system extends five times that! Roots travel through tiny cracks in bedrock and find the little amount of nutrients it can. Although these roots usually prevent landslide, erosion has occurred from Torrey Pines. If roots are at the edge of a cliff, growing roots' movement over time can cause a minor landslide. If you see trees hanging upside-down, you now know how this happened!

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