SAN DIEGO — Torrey Pines State Beach is one of the most iconic landmarks in San Diego, with sweeping views of coastal cliffs, sandy beaches and coastal wilderness of pine.
Named after the Torrey pine that grows along the hillside on the reserve, it’s an unusual evergreen center within the region’s desert and urban landscapes.
While the Torrey pine is a quintessential feature of the San Diego coast, did you know the tree is actually one of the rarest native pines in the world, as it only grows naturally in two places?
According to the National Park Service (NPS), Torrey Pines — or Pinus torreyana — can only be found here and on Santa Rosa Island, outside of Santa Barbara.
In 1850 — the year California gained statehood — botanist Charles Parry identified the pine as a “unique species” and decided to name it after his friend John Torrey, another prominent botanist of the era, California State Parks officials said.
Scientists believe that the Torrey pine has never grown in abundance, however, it’s believed to be a remnant of an ancient woodland that once flourished along the coast in Southern California. Specific places that used to be home to these groves cannot be identified because of a lack of fossil records, experts say.
Unlike other pines, the Torrey has an extensive root system that makes it uniquely apt at clinging to the poor soil along the ever-changing sandstone cliffs. According to state and national park experts, this root system also helps these trees survive in the arid Mediterranean climate of Southern California.
Their variety of shapes, on the other hand, are formed as a result of these coastal elements, with things like the wind and salty air dwarfing and gnarling existing pines in places where they are more exposed to them. In spots where the trees are sheltered, they stand taller and more upright — similar to other species of pine.
Unfortunately, about 3,000 to 8,000 years ago, hotter and drier climates contributed to a decrease in the number of Torrey pine forests. Human interaction with urbanization of the area also could have played a role in the endangerment of these trees, experts believe.
The earliest record of human inhabitants of the area near San Diego’s Torrey pine trees dates back to the indigenous Kumeyaay people, whose territory spanned from the eastern dunes of the Colorado River to the coast between Ensenada, Mexico and Oceanside. Some bands of Kumeyaay people lived in areas nearby the Torrey pine trees.
During the early age of Spanish exploration, the grove served as a landmark for sailors as they navigated the waters off the coast, known as “Punto de Los Arboles” or the “Point of Trees.”
However, calls for preservation of the Torrey pine did not start until about 1883, when Parry returned to San Diego. To his dismay, he discovered a lack of measures in place to protect the trees, which were threatened by defacing and demolition to use the land for cattle grazing.
Two years later, in 1885, the first protection measure — a $100 bounty for anyone caught vandalizing a Torrey pine tree — was put in place by local officials.
The San Diego City Council voted in 1899 to designate about 369 acres of the now 2,000-acre reserve as a public park. Concerned journalist and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps purchased additional land around the park that was slated for subdivision and donated it to San Diego for protection, expanding the reserve.
Today, the Torrey Pines State Reserve is made up of two outstanding natural preserves: The Ellen Browning Scripps Natural Preserve, which surrounds the area around Parry Grove and Guy Fleming Trails, and the Los Peñasquitos Marsh Natural Preserve.
The reserve contains over 300 endangered and protected species of native plants, including its namesake tree.
Of the over 270 parks in the State Park System, Torrey Pines is only one of 14 that are protected as natural reserves. Park officials encourages anyone who plans to visit the area to help safeguard the area by:
- Leaving all natural and cultural features alone, as they are protected by law and may not be disturbed or removed.
- Staying on the trails. Walking off-trail causes erosion, tramples plants and frightens wildlife.
- Avoiding climbing or walking on or near the cliff tops or bases.
- Leaving food outside the reserve bounds, including trails. Water is permitted.
- Packing out all trash from the reserve. Beach trash receptacles are provided on the beach areas.
- Leaving domestic animals at home. All pets are prohibited from the reserve and beach.