Bishop Pine: A Rare and Prickly Coastal Conifer
Bishop pine (Pinus muricata) is a species of pine that has a very limited distribution, mostly along the coast of California and Baja California. It is named after the Mission of San Luis Obispo, where it was first identified by botanist Thomas Coulter in 1835.
Bishop pine is an evergreen tree that can grow up to 26 meters (85 feet) tall, with a dark gray, furrowed bark and a rounded or irregular crown. The needles are in pairs, 8 to 16 centimeters (3 to 6.5 inches) long, and vary in color from bright green to blue-green depending on the population. The cones are strongly curved and have thick scales with sharp spines. They remain closed for many years until fire or heat causes them to open and release the seeds.
Bishop pine is adapted to dry, rocky soils and is drought-tolerant. It is often found in association with oaks and cypresses within the California Coast Ranges. It is also found on several offshore islands, such as Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island, where it forms dense forests. Bishop pine is a fire-dependent species that requires periodic fires to regenerate and maintain its habitat. It is also resistant to salt spray and wind, making it suitable for coastal environments.
Bishop pine has two distinct forms: a southern form with bright green needles and a northern form with dark blue-green needles. The two forms have different resin compositions and do not interbreed, indicating that they may be genetically isolated. The boundary between the two forms is very sharp and located five miles south of the border between Mendocino County and Sonoma County in California.
Bishop pine is an important source of food and shelter for many animals, such as squirrels, woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, warblers, and hummingbirds. It also provides habitat for rare plants, such as the island paintbrush (Castilleja hololeuca) and the island morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia). Bishop pine is vulnerable to threats such as logging, development, invasive species, climate change, and fire suppression. It is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Bishop pine is a unique and fascinating conifer that deserves more attention and conservation efforts. It is one of the few pines that can survive in harsh coastal conditions and has a remarkable ability to persist after fire. It is also a beautiful tree that adds diversity and interest to the landscape.
If you want to see bishop pine in its natural habitat, you can visit some of the places where it grows. One of the best places to see bishop pine is Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California. Here you can find bishop pine forests mixed with coastal scrub and grasslands, and enjoy scenic views of the Pacific Ocean. You can also hike, bike, camp, and watch wildlife in this park.
Another place to see bishop pine is Salt Point State Park in Sonoma County, California. This park has over 20 miles of hiking trails that pass through bishop pine woodlands, sandstone cliffs, tide pools, and prairies. You can also fish, kayak, snorkel, and picnic in this park.
A third place to see bishop pine is Santa Cruz Island, part of Channel Islands National Park in Ventura County, California. This island has the largest and most diverse stand of bishop pine in the world, covering over 12,000 acres. You can take a boat or a plane to reach this island, and then explore its trails, beaches, caves, and historic sites. You can also see endemic plants and animals that are found nowhere else on earth, such as the island fox and the island scrub jay.
Bishop pine is a rare and prickly coastal conifer that deserves your admiration and respect. It is a tree that has survived many challenges and changes over time, and continues to thrive in its niche. It is a tree that offers beauty and benefits to its surroundings and its visitors. It is a tree that you should see for yourself.