They’re Cutting Down Torrey Pines

by on July 22, 2019 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach

Torrey Pine in a back yard on Orchard.

By Gaye Macy

It seems at least two Torrey Pines have been/ are being cut down on Ebers and West Point Loma Blvd. I don’t know why the City has now begun taking down Torrey Pines, whether they were asked by the community, or whether it was based on risk assessment.

From one of the NextDoor strings that followed, it seems that some people feel Torreys are dangerous and want to see them cut down. One man linked to the story of the Torrey that fell on a house during a severe wind storm last winter. Another woman suggested that not all the Torrey Pines needed to be cut down, “only the ones in backyards and near sidewalks.”

I’d like to look at Torrey Pines in their own light, but, first, I’d like to address the Torrey Pine that fell in the windstorm and frightened people, so much so that many seem to feel that all Torrey Pines are dangerous.

Early in 2019, two people were killed at 6:20 a.m. in an Air BnB on the top of the hills during a heavy windstorm that gusted to over 70 mph. On the Beaufort Scale, 75 mph wind or greater is classified as a hurricane. By 6:30 a.m., the rotors of at least three news helicopters augmented those of the winds around our house.

I am a Neighborhood Watch Captain, so I walked the two blocks over to see what took place to let our NW group know. I spoke to the arborist and the work crew who were removing the fallen tree. The arborist said the tree fell because its roots had been cut. He could see where the driveway had been widened between the houses and work had been done, further destabilizing the badly damaged tree.

He said no care had been taken to support the tree or heal the injury. He said they probably didn’t even notice the damage they’d done and just carried on building. He went on to say that the damage to the tree destabilized it, as if it had lost its foot or part of a leg. Its base was gone, and it had nothing left with which to hold on. It’s amazing that with the winds at times blowing at hurricane force, the tree lasted all night before it was felled.

He added, had care been taken to avoid injuring the tree, or had measures been taken to care for the injury and heal it with support, it would have healed over, much as a person’s broken bone. Without that care, and because of negligence by both the workers and the parties overseeing it on both sides, this tragic accident occurred. Thus, it was a build-up of circumstances not of the tree’s making that caused the deaths.

About Torrey Pines. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Torrey Pine was one of the rarest pine trees in the world, with only about 100 trees remaining. In 2019, according to one source, they remain the rarest native pine species in the United States, found only here, in coastal and Northern San Diego County, Santa Rosa Island, and in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Their conservation status is Critically Endangered – that is, their population is decreasing.

We are very fortunate to have a few of these giants among us. They’re named for an American botanist, John Torrey. They grow here among our sage scrub and chaparral. Their pine nuts are inedible; they’re incredibly, tooth-breakingly hard.

A tiny Torrey Pine seedling will send down what’s called a taproot that’s two feet long. A mature tree will have a root system extending around 250 feet. The root systems of Torrey Pine trees interact with and tap into one another. They share food and water systems, communicating in groups in ways we’ve discovered in the last decade that are remarkable. Trees of all kinds do this in forest systems.

Those Torreys that live along the wind-blown coast twist as they develop into sculptural driftwood more horizontal than vertical, shaped on the wind, and often get no taller than 38 to 40 feet tall. In rich soil and babied along, the Torrey Pine can grow upwards of 100 feet.

In Del Mar, Torrey Pines have protected status. A Torrey Pine cannot be cut, transplanted, or removed without application for and receipt of a special permit, and potential professional review by the City Arborist. If a permit is issued, there is an appeals process available to neighbors and members of the public who disagree. In Del Mar, they are serious about protecting the Critically Endangered species, the Torrey Pine.

I invite you to walk among these beauties, these rare individuals surviving among our cracked sidewalks and our car exhaust along West Point Loma Blvd., or the couple left among the cement hills, and know what rarity you walk under. They are giants among us. They grow nowhere else in the world. As in the wild, they grow 250-foot root masses down into the earth. That’s a huge anchor, very heavy, and as deep as 25 building stories. They do not fall over, unless their roots are cut through, or humans otherwise meddle with their stability. Left alone to grow, they will not hurt you.

They move too slowly and are unable to run away from you. When you dig, dig as you would watch for power lines and watch instead for their roots. When you drive and park, think of the roofs, fenders, and wheels of your trucks and cars passing next to and under high voltage trunks and boughs arcing with life, and move respectfully and accordingly. They can’t move out of your way.

We are so fortunate to be in their presence. We still have them. Walk under one and stop. Feel the cool air they put back into the atmosphere. Trees have a light and a dark cycle in which they make oxygen and put air back into the world. Torrey Pines condense fog and essentially make their own weather. Thus, they make water, which is returned back into the atmosphere.

Each tree we lose contributes to the loss of the community of trees, and trees work best as a community, as a forest, as a parkland, just as we work better as a community of individuals supporting one another. When one is sick, we support that one, and the next time, they support us. Let us all support trees and each species that is in need right now of man’s not touching it unless absolutely necessary.

We’ve got heat waves in the Midwest and throughout Europe, rising seas and oceans. The spread of humanity is causing massive die-out everywhere. We must stop touching things and let things be on their own. Let them coexist with us without telling them what to do or forming them into our human needs. Let us coexist recognizing each species for the wonder that it is and not change it, but admire it.

Today, this morning on your walk, this evening driving home, find a Torrey Pine and stand under it. Put your phone or blue screen away. Get out of your car. Go just on your feet, just as you are, and stand under it. Under stand it. It will change that moment of your life. Even if you feel nothing, you will remember. It will bring something back to you. Something of being outside. A smell, a feel of cool air, a presence, a way of being.

Stand here and breathe, keep coming back to it every time your mind takes you away to another thought or something you have to do. Just stay here with where you are for a few minutes, breathe, and be in your own presence with a Torrey Pine. Maybe you smell the sharp resin in your nose of its skin and needles, breathe the dark musk of bark fallen below to decay to soil. Maybe you feel the hair free from your face under its boughs where the tree creates its own cool air eddies. Maybe you hear a pine cone plop with its seeds into the bed of needles. All your senses are focused in the moment and aware of where you are now, in maybe your first meet-and-greet with a Torrey Pine.

You’re in your own home neighborhood in the presence of the Critically Endangered, rarest pine in North America, the Torrey Pine. It makes air for you. It creates its own weather. It makes water. And you are a rare creature. The rarest pine in North America lives with you.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist July 22, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Any chance you can clarify exactly which trees? I’m not aware of a Torrey on Ebers and West Point Loma, and I’m assuming (and praying ) that you are not referring to the tree on Ebers and Greene Street?


Gaye Macy July 23, 2019 at 11:59 am

If it’s the giant and noble Torrey at the northeast corner of Greene and Ebers that you are thinking of, it is still there. I need to correct the sites of the two trees that I referred to, which were cut down between Ebers and Froude on Greene Street.


retired botanist July 23, 2019 at 2:48 pm

Thanks, Gaye, that would be helpful. It sounds as though the felled trees were not on the Heritage Tree List (which the Ebers Greene tree is), which is too bad.
There is a big difference in law and authority on private property vs. public property trees, so it is important that homeowners understand better the nature of these trees, how they grow, what kind of space they need, etc. so they don’t knee-jerk and cut down perfectly healthy trees simply b/c they’re Torreys. With the constant expansion of dwellings and encroachment into backyards, these private property trees get squeezed- the tragic collapse of the tree above is a perfect example of that.
Having said that, how can we expect lay citizens to understand trees when apparently even the Division of Forestry at Oregon State doesn’t seem to?! Check out this link for a very sad story about Douglas firs. Negligent is an understatement!


TL July 23, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Gaye Macy thank you for writing a memorial to Torrey Pines and expanding on their
uniqueness. They are our unicorn.


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