Currently there are only three native stands of Monterey pines (Pinus radiata) remaining in the United States – in the coastal areas of Monterey County CA, the Cambria hills of San Luis Obispo County CA and near Pescadero in Santa Cruz County CA. Monterey pine cones discovered in the La Brea tar pits and fossilized Monterey pine cones found in northern Marin County indicate that the range of this tree was more widespread in the past, but it has always been a coastal species.
Monterey pines are well adapted to the Mediterranean climate of their native California Coast. These coastal areas often have poor soils and little rainfall, but do have abundant fog. The needles of the Monterey pine “capture” moisture from fog, the moisture condenses on the needles and falls to the ground in droplets. With its shallow root system the Monterey pine can utilize this moisture from the coastal fog.
Monterey pines growing in protected areas develop into beautiful, symmetrical trees up to 100 feet in height while those directly on the windswept coast become misshapen and often grotesque in shape. In thick stands, the Monterey pine has a straight, pole-like form. Monterey pines have been planted all over the world as ornamentals and in plantations for lumber and pulp.
Monterey pines have three slender, flexible, bright green needles to a bundle. The bark of old trees is thick with deep furrows and long irregular, flat ridges. The cones are unsymmetrical at the base, have very short stalks and are usually found in whorls along the trunk and branches, although singles and pairs also occur. The cones reamin on the tree, partially opened, for many years. The seeds are released by forest fires or on hot days.
Monterey pine needles are high in Vitamin C. A tea made from the needles was used by indigenous people to treat headaches. The resin was chewed for rheumatism or was made into a salve for burns and sores. Glue and sealant were also made from the resin on Monterey pines. Although small, the seeds could be collected and ground into a flour. The pine roots were used for fish traps and as a raw material in the construction of baskets.
Butterflies, especially the monarch butterfly, have an affinity for the Monterey pine. Small forest mammals, including grey squirrels, feed on the seeds.
Unfortunately bark beetles, weevils and pine pitch canker (a fungus) infest Monterey pines. Leonard and I saw many Monterey pines on Jacks Peak near Monterey CA (where these pictures were taken) with sap or resin flowing from the trunk or branches – a sign that the tree is infected.
Leonard and I were fortunate to recently enjoy a beautiful fall day wandering through the Monterey pine and coast live oak forest on Jacks Peak.