Plants At Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This Plants & Plant Communities section was written by William Brothers and Rick Halsey

Climatic Conditions

wild-flowersPhoto by Eva Armi

The coastal strip of San Diego has a long growing season resulting from its maritime influences and Mediterranean climate of mild wet winters and warm dry summers. The temperature ranges from a January minimum of 45 °F to an August maximum of 80 °F, with a yearly average of 62 °F. The majority of rainfall comes during the winter and early spring, with a seasonal average of less than ten inches. Blankets of coastal fog also add moisture to this semiarid desert environment via the condensation of water on the plants and soil. Fog also increases the humidity of the air, lowering the plants’ evaporation rate, which is especially vital during summer. It is common for fog to persist the entire day along the coast while temperatures inland soar, especially during June and July.

A unique climatic condition in Southern California is caused by the Santa Ana winds. These dry and usually warm winds blow fiercely from the East, especially in autumn. They are quite effective in drying out the vegetation. The winds along with the dry vegetation are responsible for feeding the infamous fires of the chaparral vegetation.

The plant communities discussed below include the coastal strand, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, Torrey pine woodland, and salt marsh. The riparian and freshwater marsh communities are not included, even though they slice through the coastal strip at various locations.

Plant Communities

The vegetation of coastal San Diego is categorized into plant communities. Each community contains specific plants adapted to the physical, chemical, and biological parameters of their microenvironments. Specific parameters include temperature, solar radiation, wind exposure, soil composition, salinity, moisture, and types of interacting organisms present. The boundaries between plant communities are not distinct but overlap into neighboring communities. An example is the intermingling of plants from the coastal sage scrub and chaparral communities. The main plant communities in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve are:

  • Chaparral
  • Coastal Strand
  • Coastal Sage Scrub
  • Torrey Pine Woodland
  • Salt Marsh

Next topic: Chaparral