I write as I fly back from a meeting (of directors of botanical gardens) in San Diego. Yesterday, a few of us made our way to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to visit the rarest species of pine in North America, Pinus torreyana (tree at left in upper image with badlands formations to right). The natural population is magnificent, but small (restricted to a narrow band of San Diego coast as well as one of the Channel Islands) and the species is truly threatened. The “male” cones were releasing pollen and the seed cones (bottom right) were beautiful.

Torrey pine
William (Ned) Friedman

In anticipation of this trip, and on a whim, a few weeks ago I checked to see if the Arnold Arboretum had ever tried to grow this species. I was astonished to find a single specimen (98-85*A), now over 30 years old, on Bussey Hill (in plain sight). I made my pilgrimage and took its picture (lower left), just a week before temperatures plummeted in Boston to -14F on February 14. Our wild collected specimen is diminutive, seemingly healthy, and I hope it will not have been done in by the extreme cold.

That said, I can’t quite get over the notion that anything native to San Diego could possibly survive in Boston – truly a tale of two cities. But, this amazing relictual species once had a much broader range into the Pacific Northwest and appears to have retained quite a bit of cold hardiness (and tolerance of a good deal of precipitation) – a striking reminder that where a species actually lives (in the wild) and where it can live (in botanical gardens) can be very different things!