"The Coniferae of the Santa Lucia Mountains"

Transcribed and Introduced by David Rogers
Photo of Alice Eastwood, ca. 1910
Alice Eastwood, ca. 1910, from the Archives of the California Academy of Sciences. Used by permission.

In the spring of 1897 Alice Eastwood, the Curator of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, made an expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains of Monterey County. This was Eastwood's second expedition to this region, the former was in 1893, and on both she was hosted by members of the exceptionally large Plaskett family, who were early settlers in the Pacific Valley area of the Big Sur Coast.1 Based on information provided in the following report along with one of Eastwood's specimens that she collected in the vicinity of Post's Summit on June 14th of 1893 (Ribes sericeum), her expedition of that year included a crossing of the mountains via the Carrizo-Gamboa trails (called the Santa Lucia Trail in this report) and an exploration of a much of the Big Sur coast. The expedition 1897 appears to have been limited to explorations along two trails that linked the interior to the southern Big Sur coast.

One of the primary objectives of Eastwood's expedition of 1897 was to collect specimens of the male and female "flowers" of the rare and endemic Santa Lucia Fir (Abies bracteata), from which illustrations could be made for volume 12 of Charles S. Sargent's monumental "The Silva of North America" (Professor Sargent, of Harvard University, was the most preeminent botanist in the United States at that time). Upon Eastwood's return to San Francisco she composed the following report on the coniferous trees of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Monterey County. Eastwood's interest in the native trees of California resulted in A Handbook of the Trees of California, which was published in 1905.

Alice Eastwood (1859-1953) was born in Canada, but in 1873 her family moved to Denver, Colorado, where she attended public schools. After graduating from high school, she was a teacher at her alma mater for ten years, and during this time she trained herself in botany by familiarizing herself with botanical manuals and extensively collecting plant specimens. In 1890 she took a vacation in California, where she continued her botanical explorations, and in the following year she worked for a time as an assistant in the herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences. In 1892 Eastwood was elevated to position of joint curator with Katherine Brandegee, and upon Brandegee's retirement in 1894 Eastwood advanced to the position of Curator and Head of the Department of Botany.

Eastwood's commitment to her work was demonstrated in the aftermath of the great earthquake of 1906. She immediately rushed to the heavily damaged California Academy of Sciences building on Market Street, and after gaining access she had to climb metal railings of collapsed staircases to reach the herbarium on the sixth floor. She succeeded in saving nearly 1,500 specimens, including the entire type specimen collection, before the remainder of the largest botanical collection in the western United States was consumed in the resulting fire. After the earthquake Alice spent a number of years studying in herbaria in the eastern United States and Europe, and upon the completion of the new California Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park in 1912, she resumed her position at the academy, which she held until her retirement in 1949.

During her career Eastwood published over 300 articles and several books, served as the editor of Zoe and as an assistant editor of Erythea, and in 1932, with John Thomas Howell, established the journal Leaflets of Western Botany. Students of the flora of California and other western states soon become familiar with Eastwood's name, for many plants were named either by Eastwood or for her. Scrolling through the pages of Mary Ann Mathews' Illustrated Field Key to the Flowering Plants of Monterey County, I came across 30 such taxa, a number of which are rare and/or endemic to this region. Some of the more notable are:

The list also includes seven taxa of the manzanita genus Arctostaphylos, including three belonging to the highly variable A. glandulosa complex, the typical form of which bears the common name "Eastwood's Manzanita." Another manzanita, A. obispoensis Eastwood, is an uncommon plant that is restricted to serpentine outcrops in the Santa Lucia Mountains of both Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties. One of the showiest of the local wild flowers that bears Eastwood name is Penstemon grinnellii Eastwood (Big Mouth, Figwort or Grinnell's Penstemon), a montane subshrub primarily of the southern Sierra Nevada and western Transverse Ranges that also occurs at higher elevations in the Diablo and Santa Lucia Ranges.

While reading the following text one should keep in mind that Eastwood's knowledge of the Santa Lucia Mountains was limited to the information she had gathered on her two expeditions to this region in combination with the botanical literature of that time. As the upper watersheds of the Big Sur, Little Sur, Arroyo Seco and Carmel rivers had not yet been explored by botanists, nothing was known about the extent of coniferous trees in most of what is now the Ventana Wilderness. For example, at that time it was thought that the Santa Lucia Fir was limited to the vicinity of Cone Peak and a few canyons to the south, and was on the brink of extinction. In spite of the limitations of Eastwood's knowledge, her statements regarding the unique botanical aspects of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Monterey County were remarkably accurate.

Erythea 5 (6): 71-74. June 30, 1897


By Alice Eastwood

The Santa Lucia Mountains take their name from their highest peak, which rises near the middle of the chain in Monterey County to an elevation of 6,100 feet.2 These mountains extend along the coast of Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties from Monterey Bay southward, parallel to the coast. South of San Simeon Bay they trend towards the southeast, losing their identity in the low hills of the Carrizo Plain. From Pt. Sur to beyond Pt. Gorda they present a precipitous front to the ocean, rising abruptly from 3,000 to 4,000 feet from the very edge of the ocean. Numerous mountain streams come tumbling down through quickly descending canyons and widen them, delta-like, forming small tracks of comparatively level land. These little benches are very fertile and well supplied with the purest water; so that, in spite of their isolation and limited area, they have been taken up by settlers, who are known throughout the county as "The Coasters."

These mountains are especially interesting to the botanist, since they are the southern limit of the flora that follows Sequoia sempervirens [Redwood] and is so characteristic of the northern coast forests. They also contain species most abundantly represented in the Sierras, as well as many peculiar to themselves. These different floras have their representatives among the Coniferae, so that the distribution of the Coniferae will indicate, somewhat, the distribution of the different floras.

Sequoia sempervirens and Pseudotsuga taxifolia [P. menziesii, Douglas Fir] are associated together, as in the forests further north, but the latter is not confined to the coast canyons, being found also within sight of the ocean on the ridge above, near the Los Burros mine, and in other places not visited by the writer. The redwoods scarcely venture above the fog line, which, in these steep mountains along the coast, is distinctly visible to the eye, as well as instantly perceptible to the sense of feeling. They are rarely found outside of the canyons, since the steep slopes of the hills offer an environment that is too dry. The soil is dry and the air also. It must not be thought that the redwoods and spruces here are miserable specimens. One redwood tree in Willow Creek Canyon is twelve feet in diameter, and a spruce tree in the same canyon is more than three feet through. This redwood is said to be the largest tree in Monterey County, and it is certainly a fine specimen.

On the summit of the ridge from which the ocean can be seen, Pinus coulteri [Coulter or Big Cone Pine] is the most noticeable tree. Somewhere in these mountains, in 1831 [actually in March of 1832], Coulter collected the first know specimens of this pine, noted for its enormous cones. His specimen probably came from near Santa Lucia [Junipero Serra] Peak, since he records it as growing with Pinus lambertiana [Sugar Pine], and it is only there that the two species are found together [as it will be seen, it was probably due to Eastwood's excitement at finding Sugar Pines in the same locality as did Thomas Coulter and David Douglas in 1832, on the summit of the Coast Ridge north of Cone Peak, that she failed to notice the Coulter Pines]. Pinus coulteri generally grows on exposed and lofty ridges, but in these mountains it extends down the sides of the mountain on the eastern slope almost to the banks of the Nacimiento River, where it is associated with Pinus sabiniana, the Grey-leaf Pine common on the low hills of the Nacimiento and San Antonio Valleys.

On the some ridge where Pinus coulteri abounds, Pinus ponderosa is also abundant, often growing with Pinus coulteri, but frequently forming extensive groves of scattered trees.

One little poor bush of Juniperus californica was seen near a never-failing spring on the Los Burros trail [the accompanying map depicts four springs along or near this trail, the Sycamore, Round, Basket and Bane springs]. Probably the species is better represented in parts of the mountains not visited by the writer. It is said to be common near Cruikshank's ranch. The trees so far noted can all be seen when crossing the range from the Los Burros mines, on the ocean side, to the San Miguelito Ranch, on the Nacimiento River.

Another trail further north is now known as the Plaskett trail; formerly it was called Mansfield's trail. Pinus tuberculata [P. attenuata is now the currently accepted name for the Knobcone Pine] is the most noticeable conifer on the eastern side of this trail, and the trees grow almost to the base of the mountain. Its lightly-clad branches and numerous, persistent cones readily distinguish it from the other conifers.

Alice Eastwood's Travels in the Santa Lucia
A portion of the Forest Service's 1934 map of the Monterey Division of the Santa Barbara National Forest. Highlighted in red are the Los Burros Trail (the southern trail) and the Plaskett/Mansfield Trail (the northern trail).

Looking down into the deep canyon of San Miguel Creek, south of the trail, but near by, and off into the distant canyon on the north that marks the headwaters of the Nacimiento River, peculiar trees can be seen lifting spire-like summits above all the others. These trees are known botanically as Abies bracteata [Santa Lucia or Bristlecone Fir], the rarest existing fir, and confined to a few canyons of these mountains. When once seen these trees can recognized as far as the eye can reach. While there are few individuals, comparatively, the number of small trees coming up in San Miguel Canyon assures us that the species is in no danger of extermination.

Mr. E. C. Mansfield and the writer visited this locality May 1 of the present year [1897], to obtain flowering specimens, which had, until then, never been collected. The trees were in full flower; the pollen had begun to float through the air, and near the tops of all large trees female flowers were plainly to be seen. Coulter records that only the middle branches bear cones. This was not so with the trees observed in this canyon. Owing to the great difficulty experienced by Mr. Mansfield in reaching the topmost boughs and in securing specimens, only a few pistillate [female] flowers were obtained, and these Mr. Mansfield carried down, holding the twigs, to which they were attached, in his mouth, so as to keep them intact on the branches. The specimens are in the Herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences, duplicates having been sent to Prof. C. S. Sargent to be represented in the "Silva of North America." The staminate [male] flowers were more abundantly collected, being so much more easily obtained.

The firs seen in this canyon had lost their lower branches, and therefore, lacked the symmetrical outline from the base to the summit which the most perfect specimens exhibited. The writer, some years ago (in June of 1893),3 saw two trees in a gulch further north which the Santa Lucia trail crosses, where the lowest branches reached almost to the ground, and the trees tapered to perfect cones with long, pointed tops waving plume-like in the breeze. The trunk, at the upper part, sends down long, slender branchlets that droop as do those of the weeping willow or weeping spruce. Even the upper boughs have a tendency to grow downward, thus rendering the foothold of an adventurous climber somewhat precarious, since the slightest breath of wind sways the slender upper axis back and forth.

The mountaineers were all enthusiastic in their admiration of this tree, which they name the "Silver Fir." When the cones have attained full growth they have a purplish hue, and the long, slender exserted bracts become gemmed with drops of resin. The upper part of the tree seems full of odd-looking birdnests set with diamonds. The beauty of the fruit-laden branches can perhaps be imagined.

Further north, near the [southwestern] foot of Santa Lucia Peak [Junipero Serra Peak], a third trail (spoken of above) crosses these mountains. It is known by the name of Santa Lucia trail [and now as the Carrizo and Gamboa trails], and is the most rugged but most attractive of all these trails. Long ago it was much traveled by the Indians, but now a traveler rarely crosses the mountain by that route. Is passes through the only grove of Pinus lambertiana now left in these mountains. The writer can never forget the amazement and delight experienced when coming upon this grove. One or two young trees had been seen on the way up the eastern slope, but their identity was only guessed at until the magnificent trees far above and beyond were discovered. Pinus lambertiana is said to have abundant formerly on the slopes of Santa Lucia Peak, and a few trees are yet left. Libocedrus decurrens [Calocedrus decurrens, Incense Cedar] also then grew on the mountain. While the San Antonio Mission flourished, the best timber on Santa Lucia Peak was cut down, and these two valuable species were almost utterly destroyed. In those days it is said that the Nacimiento and San Antonio Valleys were "black with Indians." Their houses, fields, and aqueducts gave life to the hills and valleys over which the beautiful oaks alone now seem to hold sway. Were it not for the few survivors in almost inaccessible places, and the timbers and other relics of the San Antonio Mission, the story of the former prevalence of the Sugar Pine and Incense Cedar would scarcely be credited.


Hickman, James, ed. The Jepson Manual, Higher Plants of California. University of California Press, 1993.

Howitt, Beatrice, and John Thomas Howell. The Vascular Plants of Monterey County. The Wasmann Journal of Biology 22 (1), 1964.

Mathews, Mary Ann. An Illustrated Field Key to the Flowering Plants of Monterey County. California Native Plant Society, 1997.


Blakely, Larrry. "Whose in a Name? People Commemorated in Eastern Sierra Plant Names." This comprehensively researched article about Alice Eastwood, which includes a bibliography, is on line at:

California Academy of Sciences web site:

Harvard University Herbaria web site (Library of the Gray Herbarium Archives, Alice Eastwood):


1. Cantelow, Ella, and Herbert Cantelow. 1957. "Biographical Notes on Persons in Whose Honor Alice Eastwood Named Native Plants." Leaflets of Western Botany 8 (5): 83-101.

2. In 1907 Santa Lucia Peak was officially renamed as Junipero Serra Peak, and its elevation was later determined to be 5,862 feet. The peak actually took its name from the mountains, which in 1602 were named "Sierra de Santa Lucia" by the Spanish exploratory voyage lead by Sebastian Vizcaino.

3. According to James Griffin, who reviewed Eastwood's memoirs, in June of 1893 she ventured from the Kirk Ranch, between Mission San Antonio and The Indians, in section 35, T21S R5E, to the Dani Ranch, near Lucia, in section 9 T21S R4E (re. Griffin's "Plants of the Highest Santa Lucia and Diablo Range Peaks, California. USDA Forest Service Research Paper PSW-110'1975). So thus Eastwood's "Santa Lucia Trail" is certainly the route that is now known as the Carrizo and Gamboa trails.