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Vegetation Spotlight: Tecate Cypress

PictureTecate Cypress in Fremont Canyon

​One of the rarest species on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks today is a hardy-looking cypress tree: Tecate cypress. Tecate cones are serotinous, meaning they release seeds in response to a specific environmental trigger, rather than at the point of seed maturation. Historically, this trigger has been low-intensity fires, but as fires have grown in frequency and intensity during the last 50 years, the health and propagation of Tecate cypress is increasingly under threat.

Exemplifying the delicate existence of these trees is the northernmost stand of Tecate cypress in the world, located right here in Orange County! The stand, which once comprised a large area in Coal Canyon and Sierra Peak, was severely burned in the 2006 Sierra wildfire. While there is evidence that some trees in the area are regenerating, their survival could be seriously impacted if another fire occurs before seeds can germinate.

There are several things that can be done to help this species. Wildfire prevention efforts are critical for the survival of Tecate cypress. It tends to do well under controlled cultivation and has attracted attention from horticulturists who are lucky enough to acquire germinated seeds, ensuring the tree’s survival in controlled environments. Large-scale habitat restoration projects on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks aim towards a healthier, more resilient habitat, which is good for Tecate cypress and the ecosystem it belongs to.