Sidmouth Arboretum is highlighting some of the valley’s wonderful trees by picking a Tree of the Month throughout the year.

Sidmouth Herald: Monterey Pine 1440, Lymebourne Park. Picture: Ed DolphinMonterey Pine 1440, Lymebourne Park. Picture: Ed Dolphin (Image: Archant)

Monterey Pines (Pinus radiata) are a feature of the Sidmouth skyline.

The Arboretum has designated them as its Signature Tree and so our first Tree of the Month is the Monterey Pine which dominates the garden of Knowle, in Station Road, number 1102 in the Arboretum’s online database.

Native to the Monterey Peninsula in California, Pinus radiata was first described to European scientists in 1835 by the Irish botanist Dr Thomas Coulter from his exploration of the American west coast but his collection of specimens and seeds was lost.

In 1852, the renowned plant collector William Lobb sent a large consignment of Pinus radiata seeds from California to the Veitch nursery in Exeter, where they were germinated successfully.

Sidmouth Herald: Ed Dolphin with Monterey Pine 1282, a direct seedling from 1102. Picture; Ed DolphinEd Dolphin with Monterey Pine 1282, a direct seedling from 1102. Picture; Ed Dolphin (Image: Archant)

Several hundred young trees were sold to gardens and estates all along the south coast where they thrived because they can tolerate salt in the atmosphere.

With a girth of 6.5m, the huge knarled monster in the Knowle may be from one of those seeds, an exotic specimen added to the collection of the enigmatic Thomas Fish Esq.

There are several young trees and shrubs growing in the large bark crevices of the Knowle tree’s major limbs.

Sadly, this causes weakness and two of the large, twisted branches were torn from the tree in a recent storm, one break beside the roots of an epiphytic rhododendron.

Sidmouth Herald: The epiphytic rhodendron that weakend the large branch. Picture: Ed DolphinThe epiphytic rhodendron that weakend the large branch. Picture: Ed Dolphin (Image: Archant)

However, the main trunk is still sound and tree 1102 should be with us for many more years.

Unlike the unfortunate Californian houses, Monterey Pines are adapted to cope with the frequent brush fires of their home territory. They have very thick bark to protect the core of the tree and, unlike the cones of Scots Pine, the large cones of Monterey Pines remain closed, only opening after they have been through a fire.

The cones are sealed with a resin which protects the seeds in a fire but it melts and the cones open afterwards to release the seeds onto the ash enriched ground.

Of course, the trees in Sidmouth do not suffer from bush fires and so they retain their fist-sized cones for years.

The clusters of large cones, along with the needles which are in groups of three, make the mature Monterey Pines easy to identify.

Monterey Pines are now endangered in their original home, but they thrive in New Zealand, Spain and South Africa where they form extensive timber plantations.

There are several splendid Monterey Pines adorning our skyline but the largest are reaching the end of their lives or are under threat from developers.

Sidmouth Arboretum has planted several young trees, including two children of 1102, and we hope that one day they will make their dark green presence felt when future generations look up to the sky.

Ed Dolphin is treasurer of Sidmouth Arboretum, visit the Arboretum website by clicking here to find out more about the trees of Sidmouth.

To read more features from East Devon Resident, click on here.