Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Hesperocyparis forbesii


SPECIES: Hesperocyparis forbesii
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Esser, Lora L. 1994. Hesperocyparis forbesii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: 17 October 2013: Scientific name changed from Cupressus forbesii to Hesperocyparis forbesii; references 37-50 added. ABBREVIATION : HESFOR SYNONYMS : Callitropsis forbesii (Jeps.) D.P. Little [49] Cupressus forbesii Jeps. (Cupressaceae) [10,24,40]. Cupressus guadalupensis Wats. var. forbesii (Jeps.) Little [48,48] NRCS PLANT CODE : HEFO10 COMMON NAMES : Tecate cypress Forbes cypress TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of Tecate cypress is Hesperocyparis forbesii (Jeps.) Bartel [36,47,50]. LIFE FORM : Tree FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : None [45] OTHER STATUS : The California Native Plant Society lists Tecate cypress in Category 1B: rare or endangered in California [30].


SPECIES: Hesperocyparis forbesii
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Tecate cypress is the most widespread of the rare southern California cypress species [37]. There are about 15 known populations [6,7]. Tecate cypress occurs in four groves in southern California. Three of the groves are in San Diego County on Guatay Mountain, Otay Mountain, and Tecate Peak. The fourth is on Sierra Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains of Orange County [2,12,40]. Isolated groves of Tecate cypress extend about 150 miles (240 km) south into peninsular Baja California [2]. Tecate cypress is cultivated in Hawaii [46]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub STATES : CA HI MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 3 Southern Pacific Border KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K030 California oakwoods K033 Chaparral K035 Coastal sagebrush SAF COVER TYPES : 255 California coast live oak SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Tecate cypress is a component of the southern interior cypress forest. This community is a dense, fire-maintained, low forest that forms even-aged stands surrounded by a matrix of chaparral [11,15]. In San Vicente, Mexico, Tecate cypress grows with bishop pine (Pinus muricata) [22]. Tecate cypress is also associated with closed-cone coniferous woodlands [30,34]. Publications naming Tecate cypress as a community dominant are listed below. Preliminary descriptions of the terrestrial natural communities of California [11] The closed-cone pines and cypress [39] Vegetation change in chaparral and desert communities in San Diego County, California [42] Woody species not previously mentioned but commonly associated with Tecate cypress include California scrub oak (Quercus dumosa), shrub live oak (Q. turbinella), Eastwood manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa), bigberry manzanita (A. glauca), Otay manzanita (A. otayensis), mission manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor), hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), wedgeleaf ceanothus (C. cuneatus), cupleaf ceanothus (C. greggi var. perplexans), woolyleaf ceanothus (C. tomentosus var. olivaceus), chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), lemonade sumac (Rhus integrifolia), sugar sumac (R. ovata), laurel sumac (Malosma laurina), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), rushrose (Helianthemum scoparium), redberry (Rhamnus crocea), southern bush monkeyflower (Mimulus longiflorus), Parry nolina (Nolina parryi), whiteflower currant (Ribes indecorum), San Diego mountain misery (Chamaebatia australis), hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), wooly bluecurls (Trichostema lanatum), bushrue (Cneoridium dumosum), black sage (Salvia mellifera), white sage (S. apiana), fragrant sage (S. clevelandii), Munz's sage (S. munzii), heart-leaved pitcher sage (Lepechinia cardiophylla), fragrant pitcher sage (L. fragrans), chaparral pea (Pickeringia montana ssp. tomentosa), hairy yerba santa (Eriodictyon trichocalyx), yerba santa (E. crassifolium), tree poppy (Dendromecon rigida), chaparral yucca (Yucca whipplei), saw-toothed goldenbush (Hazardia squarrosa), and Mexican flannelbush (Fremontodendron mexicanum) [1,7,31,39]. Herbaceous species not previously mentioned but commonly associated with Tecate cypress include eucrypta (Eucrypta micrantha), bluedick (Brodiaea pulchella), fire poppy (Papaver californicum), Catalina Mariposa lily (Calochortus catalinae), Dunn's Mariposa lily (C. dunii), scarlet delphinium (Delphinium cardinale), star flower (Enastrum sapphirinum), prickly-phlox (Leptodactylon californicum), California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), golden-yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), intermediate cryptantha (Cryptantha intermedia), and Fremont deathcamas (Zigadenus fremontii) [1,7,31,39].


SPECIES: Hesperocyparis forbesii
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE : Cypress (Cupressus spp.) wood is generally durable and stable. It is suitable for a wide range of exterior uses including joinery, shingles, and boats. Possible interior uses include moulding and panelling [20]. Tecate cypress has been cut for fenceposts [2,40]. Cypress shelterbelts provide good firewood. Most cypress species develop a large proportion of heartwood which splits well, dries quickly, and is clean burning. Cypress wood is moderately fast burning because of its medium density. As cypress woods are prone to sparking, they are recommended only for enclosed fires [20]. IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Rodents and deer consume cypress seedlings [40]. Cypress are considered undesirable forage for livestock, although young plants are occasionally browsed [40]. Tecate cypress forests are considered prime habitat for the San Diego coast horned lizard [31]. PALATABILITY : NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE : NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE : Tecate cypress forests provide cover for mountain lions and golden eagles [31]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Tecate cypress has been used in watershed rehabilitation to help prevent soil erosion [26]. In interior California and near the coast, Tecate cypress is used for hedges and windbreaks for citrus orchards [40]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Tecate cypress is considered rare throughout its range [30]. Grazing and trampling by livestock are detrimental to cypress seedlings. Fire followed by intensive grazing could eliminate a cypress grove [1,2]. Strip mining for underlying clay deposits has destroyed a large portion of the Sierra Peak Tecate cypress grove. Continuation of these operations could eliminate this grove [2,38]. Most southern California Tecate cypress groves are threatened by fire and development [10,31]. Tecate cypress seedlings are susceptible to damping-off fungi [39]. Tecate cypress has a low susceptibility to coryneum canker (Coryneum cardinale), which can kill trees. Fungicides are effective in preventing the spread of the disease but cannot eradicate it once infection has begun [13,40].


SPECIES: Hesperocyparis forbesii
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Tecate cypress is a native, evergreen tree with a bushy growth form. Most trees are multitrunked, generally without a dominant leader [10,25,40]. Tecate cypress generally grows from 20 to 23 feet (6-7 m) tall, but can be as tall as 33 feet (10 m) [10,40]. On sites with a high cypress seedling density, Tecate cypress can be dwarfed and may only reach heights of 3 to 6 feet (1-2 m) at maturity [33,39]. Mature leaves are 0.06 inch (1.5 mm) long, although they can be up to 0.4 inch (10 mm) long on vigorous shoots [40]. Ovulate cones are solitary and up to 1.2 inches (30 mm) long. Staminate cones are 0.12 to 0.16 inch (3-4 mm) long [10,24,40]. The bark is nonfibrous, exfoliating, and only about 0.4 inch (1 cm) thick [10,40]. Tecate cypress forms a well-defined taproot and numerous laterals the first year [13,40]. It can survive in a vigorous condition to an age of about 90 years [41]. The oldest known Tecate cypress tree is located in the Sierra Peak grove and is 209 years old [39]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Tecate cypress reproduces exclusively from seed. Cone production is abundant. Staminate cones are produced on trees that are 6 to 7 years old [40]. Ovulate cones are produced on trees that are 5 to 7 years of age or older, but production is sporadic until age 30 [7,40]. Maximum cone production occurs on trees that are 40 to 50 years old [7,14,41]. The cones require 2 years to mature [1]. The cones of California cypress are closed; they usually persist on the tree until opened by the heat of a fire or from desiccation due to age [13,39]. The cones open, however, when mechanically detached from the tree, with the resinous seals breaking as the cones dry. In 1964, 167 unopened Tecate cypress cones were collected from Sierra Peak; 2 years later, 58 percent of the cones had opened and shed seeds while 42 percent remained unopened. Most of the unopened cones had slightly separated scales with trapped seeds. The trapped seeds probably lost their viability because of desiccation. Attached cones have remained closed for over 8 years. Sierra Peak Tecate cypress cones, some of them estimated to be 25 to 30 years old, were seen partially enveloped by exfoliating bark [39]. Seeds are shed gradually over several months after the cones open [39]. Seeds shed from detached cones rarely result in seedling establishment, usually due to lack of a suitable seedbed [1]. Seed dispersal is primarily by wind and rain [39]. Cypress seeds require bare mineral soil for germination and establishment. Seedling mortality is high on shaded sites with abundant litter because of damping-off fungi [1,39]. Seedlings are sensitive to excessive moisture [40]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Tecate cypress occurs on coarse, rocky, clay or sand soils. Parent materials include sandstone, granite, and conglomerate [1,40]. Soils are usually well drained. Tecate cypress is commonly found on dry slopes, exposed hillsides, and ridgetops, but also grows along streambanks and arroyos [7,10,21]. It is generally found at elevations from 1,500 to 5,000 feet (450-1500 m), but occurs at 8,000 feet (2,425 m) on Guatay Mountain [1,10,24]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Facultative Seral Species Site requirements for cypress seedlings are typical of those for pioneer conifers. Seedlings are shade intolerant and survive best in full sunlight on bare mineral soil [1,39]. The primary period for Tecate cypress population expansion is during the first 1 or 2 postfire years [41]. According to Armstrong [1], cypress trees of southern California are sensitive to lack of light, losing their foliage when growing in shade. Chaparral species inhibit the establishment of cypress seedlings on most sites due to competition. However, many chaparral species are less able to compete on infertile soils where Tecate cypress is often found. On these sites, shrubs are stunted and sparse [1,2]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Tecate cypress growing in the Eddy Arboretum in Placerville, California, sheds pollen in October and November [13]. On Tecate Peak, male strobili are mature by mid-October. Pollination occurs in late summer and fall, 6 months after other southern California cypress species [1]. Seeds mature 15 to 18 months after pollination. Ovulate cones remain closed until opened by heat or age [1,39].


SPECIES: Hesperocyparis forbesii
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Tecate cypress is a fire-adapted, fire-dependent species [7,39,42]. It exhibits adaptations that indicate "strict dependence on fires of a particular frequency". These adaptations include serotinous cones, resinous foliage that is highly flammable when dry, thin bark, and a mixed chaparral habitat that ensures heavy fuels and a fuel ladder into the canopy when trees are at their reproductive peak (age 40+ years). Before this age, the biomass of the community is lower, and there is considerably less dead material in and under the canopy. At about age 40 years, the cypress begin completely overtopping the shrub species, limiting the availability of light to the shrubs. This period, when the base of the cypress canopy is at about the same level as the top of the shrub canopy, is the time of greatest flammability in the stand. At 80 postfire years, stand flammability may decrease because a closed-canopy stand of Tecate cypress, almost devoid of an understory, develops [7,44]. Cypress trees of southern California have serotinous cones that persist on trees for years [17,44]. Some Tecate cypress cones remain on trees for over 8 years [39]. Cone opening in the California cypress species is erratic and almost negligible except when cones are exposed to extreme heat; then it is rapid and uniform [44]. When opened by the heat of a fire, the seeds fall on exposed mineral soil [17,40]. Most seed falls in the first months following fire [44]. When fires occur in late summer and fall and are followed by winter rains, seed is disseminated on moist, bare mineral substrates. These are optimum conditions for cypress seed germination [39]. Successful Tecate cypress reproduction is generally restricted to burned sites [19,42,43] or to washes where seeds have germinated after water dispersal [1]. According to Armstrong [1], Tecate cypress has had an average interval between fires of 25 years during the last century, with a range of 15 to 63 years [1,39]. However, Keeley [14] estimated natural fire frequency from 50 to 100 years for Tecate cypress communities based on reproductive rate data [1,7,41]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Tree without adventitious-bud root crown Crown residual colonizer (on-site, initial community) Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)


SPECIES: Hesperocyparis forbesii
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Most fires probably kill Tecate cypress. Some large trees could probably survive surface fires; however, most large trees in burned areas are located on bare or rocky sites that may have been left unburned [39]. Cypress thickets in California are conducive to crown fires, which kill most trees. Some trees survive when fires are patchy [39]. At the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in southern California on October 8, 1943, a severe fire killed one lot of Tecate cypress trees. Several other lots were partially lost to the fire [40]. Cones of the California cypress species open as the resin melts and boils. Rapid charring of the thick cone scales extinguishes the flames, leaving seeds unburned [1]. Five months after an October 1965 fire on Tecate Peak, charred cones retained only 50 percent of seed [39].
Burned Tecate cypresses covered in ash, just after the Otay Mountain Wildfire had passed; background is obscured due to smoke. Photos by Joyce Schlachter, courtesy of the San Diego Wildfires Education Project.

Tecate cypress trees release large quantities of seed after fire [40].
Seedling establishment occurs primarily in the first growing season
following fire [15,43].  A large number of Tecate cypress seedlings were
found growing on Sierra Peak 5 months after a November 1948 fire.
Seedlings were observed on Tecate Peak 3 months after an October 1965
fire.  Five months after the fire the following densities (per acre)
were recorded [1,39]:

                             burned site             unburned site

Tecate cypress trees         10,048 (dead)           15,232 (live) 
Tecate cypress seedlings     576 (live)              0

Investigations made on Tecate Peak since the October 1965 fire indicate
that this grove may be diminishing in size.  Prefire density as
determined from fire-killed trees was 3,872 mature trees per hectare.
The 1970 density of cypress seedlings on burned sites was 384 per
hectare, with adjacent unburned thickets having an average density of
6,093 trees per hectare [39].

On a 1976 burn in a 34-year-old Tecate cypress stand on Otay Mountain,
seedling density decreased from a prefire level of 2.88 per square
foot (32/sq m) to 1.6 per square foot (18/sq m) [41]. The following 
photographs show Tecate cypress's response to fire after the 2003 Otay 
Mountain Fire.
Burned Tecate cypresses with cones, and a Tecate cypress seedling, 2 years after the Otay Mountain Wildfire. Photos by Joyce Schlachter, courtesy of the San Diego Wildfires Education Project.

Although fire is important for releasing seed and preparing seedbeds for
Tecate cypress establishment, fires occurring too frequently in Tecate
cypress groves may destroy them by eliminating reproduction.  Up to a
point, reproductive success increases with an increase in the fire-free
interval [42], but fire must occur before tree senesce or the trees fail
to reproduce.  

Cone production begins at an early age and cones accumulate on trees;
because of greater productivity and accumulated cone crops, postfire
seedling establishment is greater in stands over 50 years of age at the
time of burning than in stands less than 50 years [42].  Data from three
studies were combined to estimate the rate of Tecate cypress first-year
seedling density as a percentage of prefire stem density.  By about 36
years of age, Tecate cypress reproduction density, if the stand is
burned, can equal or exceed that of the original stand [7]:

       Stand age (yrs.)       Reproductive rate (%)       Source

             10                    negligible              [41]
             19                           0.1               [1]
             20                           2.9              [41]
             20                          26.5               [1]
             30                          15.7              [41]
             36                        1206.5               [7]
             39                        1387.3               [7]
             63                        1400.0              [41]

Fires at intervals of less than 35 to 40 years would be likely to reduce
stand density [7].    

Zedler [41] suggested that Tecate cypress populations on Tecate Peak and
Otay Mountain have declined because of increased numbers of human-caused
fires.  Stands burned after 21 and 28 years have marked declines in
density [41].  Stands 28 and 34 years old did not reestablish vigorously
enough to maintain prefire densities.  Zedler [41] stated that the
necessary fire-free interval is greater than 40 years, and therefore
longer than the current 25-year fire interval reported by Armstrong [1].
On north-facing slopes of Tecate Peak, two stands burned in 1880, 1944,
and 1975 [41].  One stand (Smuggler's Canyon) also burned in 1965.
Estimated Tecate cypress densities are shown below:

             Smuggler's Canyon                    Bigrock Stand

Year     Time since        cypress          Time since        cypress
         last fire (yrs.)  trees/sq m*      last fire (yrs.)  trees/sq m*

1943       no data           no data               63             (1.0)      
1945           0.5             (1.5)              0.5           (>14.0)
1965            11             > 1.4          no data           no data
1966           0.5            (0.04)          no data           no data
1972             7              0.03               28               8.9
1976             1              0.02                1               1.4

* Figures in parentheses are estimates based on extrapolation from other
stands of similar age; estimates of density are conservative.  

In the past 67 years the fire frequency on Tecate Peak has gone from
one fire every 40+ years to one fire every 15 years in some areas.  In
the same period, the average extent of Tecate cypress has dropped from
260 acres (105 ha) to 74 acres (31 ha) [42].  On the Smuggler's Canyon
site, Tecate cypress has been reduced in less than 35 years from a
dominant to a minor vegetational component [41].  The decline in density
has not been as drastic in the Bigrock Stand because of one less fire in
1965 [41].

Dunn [7] has proposed the following fire frequency categories and
subsequent responses by Tecate cypress:

high (1-25 years)- elimination of Tecate cypress from plant community
moderate (26-39 years)- unlikely to maintain present range of Tecate cypress
low (40+ years)- maintenance of Tecate cypress population 


SPECIES: Hesperocyparis forbesii
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