I used to be a climber. Not a social climber, but a tree climber equipped with a hand saw, Husqvarna climbing saw, climbing belt, hooks, clip line, pig tail, roping line, pole pruner, earphones and Raybans.
I was quite the cool character back then, even if I did come home full of sawdust and sometimes covered in sap. I loved the heights tied in to the top of a 100-foot tree, busting a free workout and getting paid for it.
Balancing a tree’s shape or balancing on a 40-foot limb while walking out to its tip roped in above to the central leader satisfied my addiction for adrenaline and creative impulse. But few trees were as fun and beautiful to work with as our own Pinus Torreyana.
Although you would come home covered with sap, the tree smells so amazing fresh cut or above in the crown that it becomes intoxicating. The clear fresh sap dripping from an end cut tastes like wintergreen and sugar mixed together and coats your teeth deliciously. I learned to simply take a rubbing alcohol sponge bath or soak a washcloth with rubbing alcohol and pull the sap from my hair before showering. It was an easy cleanup.
The Torrey, I learned, is a warm weather pine. It has many cousins, some rare and some not so rare. It is said that the rarest sub species is the Pinus dalatensis found on only two hills in Dalat Viet Nam as recently as 1960.
Our Torrey, however, can grow to be a monster. I personally cut down (with permission) in Del Mar a 100-foot tree that had a trunk diameter of six feet or more. The tree was losing limbs on top of a beautiful home off 13th Street in Del Mar. The Torrey pine, (depending on the city) is protected there unless it threatens life, limb or property when growing within 12 feet of a structure.
The bark on the local Torreyana is very thin. Inside, the wood is clear and white, quite a color variation from the exterior silver we all know and love. The wood splits easily and burns hot when dry as you would expect most pitchy pines to do.
The rings on a Torrey pine are clear and easily defined. When you make a final trunk cut, you can count the approximate number of years the tree has seen without trouble. Some rings on older trees show fat from heavy winter rains and then grow thin as the drought cycles become evident in subsequent years.
If you have been to Torrey Pines State Park, you may have seen these trees growing on the sides of the cliffs and in the hard sandstone. The Torrey Pine will actually create pollen from a structure called Stroebili, not from flowers. This pollen is received by the lower branches where cones are formed. In the case of the Torrey, this seed production can take three years to complete.
Many times the cones in production do not come to fruition due to drought or other stressors in the environment. Most cones will produce about 100 winged seeds that pop from the cone casing after it falls to the ground or dries up on a limb. The most interesting thing about the propagation and disbursement of the Torrey seed is that man is in second place for spreading these trees around.
It is the Scrub Jays who love these trees even more. They hide the pine nuts regularly in the dense carpet of needles below the tree or in fissures along the sandstone cliffs. Having bird brains, they often times don’t remember where they put their last meal and so a seedling Torrey pine begins the cycle anew.
If you love the Torrey pine, remember that it is a fast growing pine if given adequate water. This tree prefers full sun and moist ocean air where it can actually hydrate through each five-fingered clump of long gray green needles.
Give your Torrey pine space to breathe and don’t plant it close to your home. The roots of a Torrey pine are invasive and will destroy concrete with ease.