Two distinctive plants native to the California coast south of San Francisco in Monterey Bay are the Monterey pine and Monterey cypress. Other plants that grow on the beaches in Monterey between Santa Cruz and Carmel include iceplant and California poppies. As with many things Californian, these plants have been exported across America and the world to grow in home gardens and in commercial crops.
The lone Monterey cypress is an icon of travel brochures that features a single twisted tree clinging to a cliff high above the windswept Pacific shoreline. An ancient tree, the cypress is native to the area, with two remaining groves left in protected areas in the Del Monte Forest and Point Lobos Reserve near Monterey and Carmel.
Callitropsis macrocarpa is highly wind resistant. Trees normally grow round spreading crowns, but those that grow in windswept unprotected areas develop a distinctive flat tops, gnarly trunks and twisted limbs that photographers love.
They are grown as ornamentals, specimens, hedges and windbreaks along the west coast, and for timber in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Tall Monterey pines produce cones with easily recognized asymmetrical large round knobs. Fossils from the Pleistocene are found along the California coast from San Francisco to Mexico, but just five original groves survive. Three are around Monterey and two on islands off Baja California in Mexico. These trees are threatened by disease and environmental factors.
The Monterey pine belongs to the informally named California closed cone pines. Normal conifers mature annually, but these trees keep their cones sealed with resin until opened by fire. While a fire may kill the parent tree, the cones release their seeds within a day, getting a head start on other trees. The domestic Monterey pine is the world's most planted conifer, according to Frank Perry, Research Associate, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, thriving in forests in New Zealand, Australia, South America, Spain and Africa.
Not native to California, iceplant is a succulent with plump, spear-shaped green leaves easily recognizable to anyone who has beachwalked or tidepooled the shorelines. Iceplant spreads in sand, taking moisture from the soil and storing it in the leaves. In spring, white, yellow, pink or bright magenta flowers dot iceplant colonies on the Monterey coast. Iceplant is grown in rock gardens across the world.
Originally imported to stabilize sandy areas, iceplant spreads quickly, roots out native plants and is considered invasive, according to California State Parks.
The golden California poppy is familiar plant that grows along the shores near Monterey. Native to the state, it is widespread and grows from sandy beaches to grassy plains. It is an ancient flower that is hardy and popular for its bright yellow-orange spring flowers. It is also the State Flower of California.