In the 1500s Spanish sailors used the Torrey pine trees on the cliffs as a navigational aid, calling it Punta de los Arboles. Our local Kumeyaay knew the trees as a source of food, pine nuts, needles for baskets and sap for a glue/sealant. In 1849 Charles C. Parry, a very young botanist completing a survey in the area, noted a “new” species of pine tree, not scientifically classified. Parry made the tree official and named it for his mentor John Torrey. By the 1800s the site was a place to chop down trees for firewood. Parry realized the Torrey pine was a rarity confined to its tiny territory, the foggy shore. It survives on mists and droplets, able to water itself (the Torrey pine is in one other location, Santa Rosa Island). Worried that this rare tree would disappear, Parry lobbied for protection from the San Diego Society of Natural History in 1883. He envisioned the “unique Pacific Coast production so singularly confined within its boundaries” would be dedicated to scientific instruction and recreation. The city set aside 369 acres in 1899. In 1912 Ellen Browning Scripps bought up all the private property lots on the land and gave it to the city. In 1916 Guy L. Fleming pressed for the area to become a park.
Without their sponsorship, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve would likely be treeless, coated in condos.
The Torrey pine is still in trouble at the Reserve. This endangered species is under threat from bark beetles that have killed whole groves. The Reserve is experimenting with replanting Torrey saplings. Regrowth, if successful, will take years.
In Del Mar trees are part of our personality. The Torrey pine, our signature tree, its wispy needles featured on our logo, is protected. But it may not be protected enough to preserve Parry’s mission of safeguarding the Torrey and our tree canopy. Our trees are being attacked by the bark beetle and contests over views, development redesigns, troubles with overgrowth due to overwatering, poor maintenance without periodic lacing, and age. Indeed, a few older trees have toppled over this winter during the storms.
Though the Torrey and Monterey Cypress are in a special category, oversight is slight. Tree removal permits are liberally granted. The city does tend to tree crises on city land and has an approved Public Tree Policy (2004). It is time to refocus and enforce the policy and offer guidance on proper tree management and maintenance.