EVOLUTION OF THE MONTEREY CYPRESS
by Rosemary Foster
All of us who love Point Lobos are familiar with Cupressus macrcarpa, the Monterey Cypress, perhaps the land-dwelling symbol of the Reserve. We see the cypress here and all around the Monterey Peninsula; perhaps we often forget how unique this tree is.
There are only two native stands of Monterey cypress, here at Point Lobos and in Pebble Beach )appropriately enough at Cypress Point.) The occurrence of the Monterey cypress in just these two localities has led to its listing by the State of California as a Category 1 Rare and Endangered species: rare and endangered due to restricted habitat and/or low numbers of plants per population or vulnerable habitat.
Monterey Cypress is widely planted as a landscape tree throughout the west coast. This widespread planting had led to the tree not being listed as a federally endangered species: the federal list does not distinguish between naturally occurring populations and planted specimens.
The cypresses within the Allan Memorial Grove are especially valuable because of their isolation from planted cypresses from other ares. As close as Cypress Point is to Point Lobos, there are genetic differences between the two populations and minor variations in cone structure. Because they are surrounded by a landscaped residential area the cypresses in the Del Monte Forest are also more likely to hybridize with trees planted from Point Lobos seed stock or, indeed, with other species of cypress planted as landscape.
The cypress family tree has been growing for a long time. fossil remains have been found from sediments of the Late Triassic (200 million years ago); fossils of direct precursors of the modern genus Cupressus have been found from the Cretaceous period, the time of the dinosaurs, long before broad-leaved plants evolved to provide serious competition to conifers. The cypress family has never been as dominant in the landscape as its closest relatives the members of the redwood family which once formed massive forests across the Northern Hemisphere. The scattered remains of cypress forest comprised 13 species and 12 varieties that circle the globe in a band about 30 degrees wide. Except for Cupressus sempervirens, or mediterranean cypress, which ranges from Greece to Iran, most of these populations are similar to the monterey cypress - small, isolated stands, often in danger of being obliterated by human activity or out competed by other later-evolving and more
Study of fossil records and comparison of physical characteristics point to the Italian cypress as the parent of all modern cypress species. The earliest cypresses were well-evolved before the breakup of the super continent Pangaea into two smaller landmasses, the northern Laurasia and the southern Gondwanalnad about 180 million years ago. The formation of the Tethys Sea, a fore-runner of the Mediterranean formed by the separation of these two land masses, created a wide band of temperate coastal climate favored by many species of the cypress then and now. This movement and subsequent shifting of the continents into their present locations split and isolated the cypress populations, leading to the varieties as trees which were better suited to the changing conditions and reproduced more effectively than others.
As the cypress groves on what was to become North America became more and more isolated, as climates changed die to continental drift, mountain uplift and changing sea levels, the Mexican cypress, Cupressus lusitanica, evolved as the parent species to an eventual 16 species and varieties throughout western North America, one of which is our own Monterey cypress. Who knows, given a few thousand years of no human intervention and no geologic or climatic disasters to wipe them out, the two populations of Monterey cypress might become separate species.
By 140,000.000 years ago, the spreading apart of the earlier proto-continents had caused the formation of separate land masses, one of which became North America. Time and distance from cypress populations in Europe and Asia led to development of new species able to adapt to changing conditions in the cypress populations on the North American continent.
Comparative studies of cone structure, bark, foliage and other physical characteristics have provided taxonomists with a reasonable history of the cypress family tree. The Mexican cypress Cupressus lusitanica is the probable ancestor of all the North American species. The Monterey cypress is the probable ancestor of six other cypress species and sub-species including the Gowen and Sergeant cypresses the two other species native to Monterey County. This is an indicator of the great age of Monterey cypress as a species.
Few visitors to Point Lobos are aware that the reserve is home to two species of cypress. Slightly inland and uphill from the main reserve is the Marks Addition at Lobos Ranch, one of the two places the Go wan cypress, Acupressure governing, is found naturally. The other population of Gowen cypress is located in the Morse Preserve in Del Monte Forest. There are also two varieties of Acupressure governing found in California, C. g. vary. abrasion, found in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and C. g. vary. pima, found in Mendocino County. This discontinuous distribution suggests that the Gowen was once far more prevalent and that its range has been recently restricted by one or more of a number of factors including climatic change, increased competition from other newly developing tees, and physical changes in landscape. We experienced a small sample of this during the earthquake of October 1989 which caused a rise in elevation of the Santa Cruz Mountains as well as moving the Monterey Peninsula approximately 2 1/2 inches to the north. Over millions of years these changes are sufficient to isolate populations. Without genetic interchange between these populations, genetic shifts in these smaller populations become more significant and genetic changes may occur more rapidly. In its current distribution, the Go wan cypress (all its varieties) is found on shallow, nutrient-poor soils on dry slopes at 1,000 to 2,500 foot elevations, near the ocean, but not immediately on the coastal bluffs as is the Monterey cypress.
The walk through the history of the cypresses ends now with a comparison of the physical characteristics of the two species found here at Point Lobos: the Monterey cypress, Acupressure macrocarpa, and the Gowen cypress, Cupressus goveniana. The Monterey cypress is much the larger of the two, as well as the better known. The Monterey cypress has much darker green foliage than most of its closest relatives. This lack of the grey foliage of species found in inland, more arid areas makes the Monterey cypress less able to survive in drier areas. The proximity of the ocean breezes and the salt spray may also be major factors in the Monterey cypresses' resistance to disease in its native habitat. The characteristics listed for the Gowen cypress are fro the species found in the Monterey Peninsula area. There are some further differences among the subspecies Acupressure goveniana abramsiana. the Santa Cruz Mountains subspecies and C.g. pigmaea, the pygmy cypress of Mendocino County.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and Point Lobos Association
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