The rare Tecate cypress needs fire to reproduce. The seed cones use fire as an ecological trigger to know when to release the seeds, a process which optimally happens every 30 years or longer. When mature trees burn, the cones pop open, and the seeds are released, germinate and become seedlings to replace the mature trees. However, if another fire happens before the young plants can mature, the grove is destroyed before new seeds can be produced.
The original grove is in northern Fremont Canyon, near Cleveland National Forest. The grove is not easily accessible or visible, making it hard for visitors to catch a glimpse of this rare species. Irvine Ranch Conservancy scientists and volunteers have planted hundreds of Tecate cypress while conducting research on the most effective methods for restoring them in their natural habitat. Their research showed that seedlings grown in a nursery were more likely to survive than direct-planted seeds at the grove site. They also found that while varying the amount of supplemental water given to the plants had little effect on growth, large amounts of natural rainfall had a significant effect on the seedling strength.
Seedlings held in the nursery for more than a year did better than those planted after 6 months, so the Conservancy learned that seedlings could be held until the weather conditions were just right. With the current rainy season, seedlings not used at the project site are now being planted near the Fremont Staging Area, just east of Irvine Regional Park.
Since this site is much more accessible than the outer reaches of Fremont Canyon, more volunteers can get their hands dirty while helping this rare species. About 60 seedlings have been planted and will need ongoing maintenance to help them succeed. Volunteer activities will include hand-weeding and deep watering while the seedlings get established. Having a second small grove at the staging area will provide the people a chance to appreciate this iconic species and will, as plants mature, provide a safety net for them – if one grove is again affected by wildfire, seeds can still be harvested from the second location.
Monthly activities meeting at Irvine Regional Park are available for volunteers 12 and older. Pre-registration is required; all tools and training are provided. Click here for event dates, or visit LetsGoOutside.org/activities.