Endangered Species in Santa Cruz County - Species Account

Santa Cruz Cypress
(Cupressus abramsiana)

This information was taken from the following publication, which is available for reference use at the Central Branch Library:

Information below on Santa Cruz cypress is taken from its Draft Recovery Plan prepared by the Service (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1997.)

Description and Taxonomy

A member of the coniferous cypress family (Cupressaceae), Santa Cruz cypress (Cupressus abramsiana) is a tree 1 to 25 m (3 to 82 ft) in height. The grey bark is fibrous, thin, and broken into vertical strips or plates, and the scale-like leaves are bright green. The seed cones are spheric to widely elliptic and have 8 to 10 brown scales with a central projection. Cones are serotinous, but the species does recruit at sites that have not burned recently. Although some taxonomists have classified Santa Cruz cypress as a variety or subspecies of Gowen cypress (Cupressus goveniana) with recognized intermediate characteristics, the most recent taxonomic treatment by Bartel, as published in The Jepson Manual (Hickman 1993), recognizes Santa Cruz cypress as a distinct species. Bartel confirms the original description of the species by Wolf in 1948.

Habitat Description

Santa Cruz cypress occurs on dry ridges above the fog belt, in patches and within a mosaic of coastal chaparral and mixed evergreen forest vegetation, including knobcone pine, ponderosa pine, and redwood forests. Distribution of the cypress is restricted in part by the limited amount of suitable habitat, especially on soils that tend to be poorly developed, sandy or gravelly in texture, and well-drained.

Range and Distribution

The species exists only in five populations. More than 5100 total individuals cumulatively occupy approximately 142 hectares (356 acres) along a 24 kilometer (15 mile) range of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties, California. The Bonny Doon population is the largest and supports over 3000 individuals.

Population Status and Current Threats

When Santa Cruz cypress was federally listed as endangered, primary threats were alteration and destruction of habitat due to logging, agricultural conversion, and land development. Secondary threats to the cypress may be posed by alteration of natural fire cycles, genetic introgression, disease and insect infestation, and competition with alien plants; however, the extent to which these factors pose a threat has not yet been fully evaluated. The restricted range of the species may enable random events to extirpate one or more populations.

Conservation Efforts

Santa Cruz cypress is both federally and state listed as an endangered plant species. A Draft Recovery Plan was published by the Service in April 1997. Land use plans and ordinances of Santa Cruz County and San Mateo County afford some protection to the species, and three of the five populations (including half of the Bonny Doon population) and more than half of all of the individual plants occur on private lands. The remainder of the plants are protected within State or county parks, and watershed management plans have begun for some of these areas. Moreover, some of the private landowners reportedly are interested in conserving the species by selling their property to a local private land conservancy, but funding for this has not been available.

Needed Recovery Actions

As outlined in the Santa Cruz Cypress Draft Recovery Plan, the following recovery actions are needed: (1) Secure habitat for those populations that occur on private lands; (2) Conduct research on life history, ecological requirements, and population demographics of the species to contribute toward development of management plans for each population; (3) Develop and implement management plans for each populations and its habitat; (4) Develop a public education program; and (5) Establish an ex situ seed bank. The total recovery cost is estimated at $51,500 over five years.1


1U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Draft Recovery Plan for Two Insects (Polyphylla barbata and Trimerotropis infantilis) and Four Plants (Chorizanthe pungens var. hartwegiana, Chorizanthe robusta var. hartwegii, Erysimum teretifolium, and Polygonum hickmanii) from the Santa Cruz Mountains, California." Portland, Oregon. The Service, 1997, pp.35-37.