Sunday, March 03, 2013

Torrey Pines Sunset

I spent a few moments watching the Sunset over the beach below Torrey Pines State Reserve after spending the afternoon hiking and taking photos of plants at Torrey Pines State Park. I had only intended a quick hike, perhaps two hours. However, I went to Torrey Pines State Reserve to take pictures of one of the endemic orchids. The lady at the admissions booth said she had no idea and suggested I try the people in the visitor's center, who would surely know. The lady at the visitor's center said she had no idea there were orchids but that they had a library of books I could peruse and these cool videos. Now, wild orchids are a pretty specialized topic and Southern California terrestrial orchids are mostly grassy looking affairs with spindly stalks of tiny white or green flowers. Most people would as soon step on them (accidentally as they are headed towards something more memorable such as a big orange poppy...) as take their picture.
I mentioned that I had researched, in my personal plant library, the orchids of San Diego County and, indeed, unless it had gone extinct in the interim, there was an orchid species (at least one) in Torrey Pines Reserve. The very nice lady at the visitor's center noted that there was a guided tour at 2pm and that, lo and behold, the guide was none other than Margaret Fillius, the author of Native Plants, Torrey Pines State Reserve and Nearby San Diego County Locations!! It was my very lucky day indeed. It turns out, Margaret (a very knowledgeable and gracious host) knew of some three or four plants of Piperia cooperi that were just starting to grow for the season and she agreed to show one to me. Sadly, it was not in bloom yet, however, at least I can say I've seen one and I have some motivation to go back again in the hopes of getting there when it really is in bloom. Had it been in bloom, it would have looked like:

In any case, I had a wonderful time hiking through the park with Margaret, learning all about the myriad cool plants and critters in the park. I hope to do it again at some point. I also shared a picture, with Margaret, of this cheeky little ground squirrel that was eating one of the wild flowers, petals first, on the side of the trail, and who was not at all averse to posing for pictures!

Finally, note that the park is named after, and was created to protect the Torrey Pine, are one of the rarest pine trees in the world, its distribution being limited to Torrey Pines Reserve State Park and to Santa Catalina Island. The two populations have been genetically analyzed and have apparently been isolated for a considerable length of time as they are genetically distinct. The Torrey Pines State Park population is all pretty close to genetically identical. That lack of genetic diversity may not bode well for its future survival. Distinguishing features, if you see one, include five needles per cluster, and, as opposed to may other pines which have round needles, the Torrey pines have round needles with one flat side (think of a half cylinder). Shown here, a Torrey Pine branch with a passing Western Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica. The scrub jays will peck into the cones to extract the oily pine nuts.

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