The seaside town of Cambria is renowned for its Monterey pines (pinus radiata). Known for years as “Cambria pines” or “Cambria pines by the sea,” the towering trees (up to 100 feet in height), give Cambria its identity and are treasured by residents. Visitors come to admire the scenic views and to walk beneath the giants on beds of fragrant pine needles.
Monterey pines are important to the existence and character of Cambria.
The facts are, Monterey pines are native only along the California coast and on two islands off Baja California. They are grown elsewhere and harvested for lumber. They are an old species; their origins can be traced over the past 24 million years, but they are fast growing and vulnerable to nonnative diseases. We have watched them suffer in the past few years.
The drought we’re experiencing is exhausting our forests. For safety reasons, these dead and dying trees must be removed. According to our Fire Department, 40 percent of our pines are dying or dead. The shallow-rooted trees are prone to fall on homes and wires, and are brittle-dry, inviting wildfires.
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One morning three weeks ago, we got the dreaded knock at the door. We were told that PG&E would be sending a contracted company to remove our dying pine tree. The majestic tree sat at the corner of our triangular-shaped property, soaring to a height of 75 feet. It gave us a bit of relief from the afternoon glare of the ocean. It was the one area of the property that I spent no effort on landscaping. I let the needles fall where they might. Few weeds grew under the dense mulch.
The tree had deteriorated over the past year. But death came suddenly. When the needles turned orange, I knew the tree was doomed.
The tree service workers, using a “cherry picker” as a lift, started at the top, working their way down. Branches were amputated one by one, and falling sections of the trunk, cut by chainsaw, shook the earth as they landed. I felt sad for “our” tree, and sad for all the trees in the forest that are stressed and dying, getting little moisture except from the morning fog.
Counting the rings, I estimate the tree to be about 40 years old. Some rings were large, indicating years of sufficient rain, but many others were narrow, particularly the last few. I remind myself that rains will come. But will this particular forest ever recover? History tells us it will, but then again, Earth and its weather has changed in the past 24 million years.
Tip of the month
If you are able to get water for your trees, use it efficiently. “Feeder roots” for trees (the young pliant roots that take in water and food) are located away from the trunk, usually under the outer edge of the canopy. Apply water evenly around the tree at this point.
Gardeners are usually advised not to water native oaks in summer, as it encourages fungus, but this year, with the drought, occasional deep watering is recommended.