Remains of the Torrey pine at San Diego Botanic Garden
  • Remains of the Torrey pine at San Diego Botanic Garden
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San Diego Botanic Garden

230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas

On Tuesday, June 30, the last of a 100-foot-tall Torrey pine was cut down at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. It took six workers 35 hours to remove the tree, one of four rare Torrey pines in the garden’s rainforest area.

Although fungal conks had been found at the tree’s base in 2006, the disease was not the reason for the removal. Garden staff members say the tree had been planted on a slope and its roots seem to have encountered a hardscape beneath the softer soil. Over the past couple of years, it had begun to lean at a disconcerting rate. Garden executives decided to remove the tree before it fell and damaged other rare specimens or hurt visitors.

“Sadly for San Diego Botanic Garden, we have to do some logging in our own rainforest, in order to ensure the safety of our visitors and the other plants in this exhibit,” stated Julian Duval, president and chief executive officer of the garden, in a press release. “We feel deeply the loss of this historic and rare Torrey Pine tree that has been a part of our collection since the Larabees planted it more than 60 years ago.”

The Torrey Pine is the rarest native pine in the United States, and some botanists think it may be the rarest pine in the world. The San Diego Botanic Garden has 17 more growing within its 37-acre property in Encinitas. Most of them were planted in the 1940s or 1950s by Ruth and Charles Larabee, a couple who moved to the area from Kansas City, Missouri, in 1942/43 and purchased the original 26.5 acres of ranch land.

The Larabees lived together in the small ranch house that still stands in the garden today (the Larabee House) until they divorced in 1950. After Charles moved to Balboa Island in Newport Beach, Ruth stayed and continued to upkeep the gardens. During their time together, they’d planted cork oaks, dragon trees, Hollywood juniper, Mysore fig, Southern magnolia, Torrey pines, and others. In January, 1957, Ruth donated the entire 26.5 acres to the County of San Diego to be preserved as a park.

Duval said the leaning tree’s removal was a delicate process that had to be done without a crane because of its location and proximity to other rare or endangered botanic specimens. The six workers from Bishop’s Tree Service had to rig a system of ropes and pulleys and take the tree down branch-by-branch.

The smaller pieces will be turned into mulch and wood chips that will be used around the garden. Larger pieces are currently secured and stored in the overflow parking lot and will be used to create one piece of furniture. The garden executives have not yet decided on the specifics of the furniture piece, only that it will be placed in the Larabee House, which will be the site of a future visitors’ center (currently underway and made possible by a grant from the County of San Diego). The wood from the Torrey Pine will also be used to create smaller items for sale in the garden’s gift shop.

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