12 Days of Conifers: Pines of Santa Rosa Island's Cloud Forests

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For Day 10 of 12 Days Of Conifers, we’re leaving the mountains and heading to a completely different ecosystem: the cloud forests of Santa Rosa Island, one of the California Channel Islands, located about 26 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara.

Bishop pines growing in a valley, with the ocean in the background

Bishop pines on Santa Rosa Island

(Credit: R. Rudolph, NPS. Public domain.)

Today’s featured conifers are Bishop pine (Pinus muricata) and Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana).

Torrey pine is the rarest pine in North America, listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. It is only found on Santa Rosa Island and at the Torrey Pines State Reserve near San Diego. Bishop pine is more common, but still has quite a restricted range, including two of the Channel Islands and disjunct coastal populations from Oregon to Baja California.

View of the ocean peeking through a Torrey pine tree

Torrey pine in the Channel Islands

(Credit: NPS. Public domain.)

Both species are characteristic of Santa Rosa Island’s cloud forests. Cloud forests were once common on Santa Rosa island, but livestock decimated the island’s vegetation in the 19th and 20th centuries, destroying many of the plants and soils that held these forests together.

Today, Santa Rosa Island is part of Channel Islands National Park, and a team of researchers, managers, and volunteers is working to restore the cloud forests. USGS ecologist Kathryn McEachern is leading the effort to study the restoration process, collecting data that is helping the team learn what tools and strategies are working best to restore the soil, plants, and hydrologic system.

Bishop pine is one of the species at the center of the Santa Rosa Island restoration. Along with other cloud forest species, Bishop pines are first planted in the greenhouse, then transferred to the restoration sites along with structures that help intercept fog that the growing tree can use. When they get big enough, the young Bishop pines take over the job of fog interception and become nurse plants for smaller plants, beginning the process of rebuilding the cloud forest.

Learn more here.

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Small plants grow beneath the needles of a Bishop pine

Small plants grow beneath the needles of a Bishop pine

(Credit: Kathryn McEachern, USGS Western Ecological Research Center. Public domain.)