Of the nine or ten known stands of the Piute cypress, Cupressus nevadensis, all within a 72-kilometer (45-mile) stretch in the Kern River drainage, this is the type locality and the largest (280 hectares – 700 acres) of the groves. (See Back Canyon Piute Cypress Grove, Greenhorn Piute Cypress Grove, Hobo Ridge Piute Cypress Grove and Liebel Piute Cypress Grove). Thousands of trees are found here, with the best developed on the lower elevations. There are several distinct age classes. A 1921 fire burned 80 hectares (200 acres) and the re-growth is 4 to 5 meters (13 - 16 feet) tall. In the remaining area the average age is 200 years, but there are older and taller trees scattered throughout the groves, probably survivors of a fire 200 years ago. The largest tree is 13.7 meters (45 feet) tall, with a d.b.h. of 73 centimeters (29 inches), and the oldest is between 500 and 600 years.
This cypress is a relict species, closely related to the Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica, and the Tecate cypress, Cupressus forbesii (see Tecate Peak Cypress Grove). If the Mojave was an arid woodland until the late Pliocene, as has been suggested, the two California species would have become isolated and are survivors on the western edge of what was once a vast woodland. Sheltered from the hot winds that funnel through Kern Canyon and South Fork Valley, the climate here is the least arid of the known localities. The tree is found in a variety of soils, from fractured rock to fairly deep top soil, and is most abundant in red clay.
Found in association with the cypress are California juniper, Juniperus californica, pinyon pine, Pinus monophylla, buck brush, Ceanothus cuneatus, mountain mahogany, Cercocarpus betuloides, and greenleaf manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula. The rare plants Astragalus subvestitus and Eriogonum breedlovei are found in the vicinity. In the upper elevations, near Saddle Springs, a pine forest is found with Jeffrey and yellow pine, Pinus jeffreyi and Pinus lambertiana, white fir, Abies concolor, and black oak, Quercus kelloggii, among the dominants. Other noteworthy species include the mountain morning-glory, Calystegia occidentalis ssp. occidentalis, and Streptanthus cordatus var. piutensis; the latter is found in the cypress grove.
The animal life is typical of the region. Of particular note is the uncommon legless lizard, Anniella pulchra, which is found in the area, as is the rare snail, Helminthoglypta cuyamacensis var. piutensis.
Plutonic outcrops cover much of the area, the oldest being the Summit gabbro, dating from the Mesozoic and varying from hornblende gabbro to biotite gabbro. This formation underlies the area and is closely associated with the Sacator quartz diorite, varying from gabbro to granodiorite, which intrudes the Summit gabbro. The gabbro is medium to fine-grained.
Integrity: A portion of the area has been given protection as a Botanical Area. Portions of the pine forest have been logged and there has been mining in the area. A road bisects the area.
Use: Educational, research, observational, in public portion. Remainder, private.
Ref: Twisselmann, Ernest C. 1962. The Piute Cypress, Leaflets of West. Bot. 9 (15), pp. 248-253.
Wolf, Carl. 1948. Taxonomic and Distributional Studies of the New World Cypresses. El Aliso Vol. 1, pp. 1-250.
Inventory of California Natural Areas
Revision © 2008 Steven Louis Hartman