Point Lobos' vegetation is varied and unique. As you walk or drive through, see if you can identify some of the key land habitats and plant communities including Monterey Cypress in the A.M. Allan Memorial Grove on the Cypress Grove Trail, Monterey Pine Forest along the Pine Ridge, Lace Lichen and North Shore Trail, Northern Coastal Scrub along the Cypress Grove Trail as it heads toward A.M. Allan Memorial Grove, Coastal Bluff along the South Shore Trail and Coastal Prairie and Grasslands at Mound Meadow and on the Moss Cove Trail toward Ixchenta Point. Very important habitats and plant communities can also be found along the shoreline in the intertidal area as well as in deeper water.
Each of these groups of plants is a relatively distinct collection of plant species. Each community exists where it does as a result of complex interactions among a number of factors. These, in turn, affect the ability of these communities to provide food and shelter – habitat – for the animals and birds that depend on them.
Some of those factors include climate, topography, geology, soils, fire, air and water quality, time, and all the organisms big and small that live in the communities. Disturbance and damage from people can also be highly destructive of these habitats, whether through walking off the trail, harassing animals resting on beaches, or other activities.
Plant communities are often named for the dominant species of the community. A species may be dominant either by its physical size, such as the Monterey Cypress forest, or by its numerical dominance. Not all communities have one species which is dominant; these are named for physical or generic characteristics, such as grasslands or scrub, or by habitat, such as coastal bluff communities.
A classic plant community structure can be best seen here in the Monterey Pine forest: a tree species dominating the community by its sheer size, quantity of nutrients its roots absorb and by the needle or leaf litter dropped; a shrub layer of Ceanothus, Coffeeberry and Poison Oak, and an understory of low-growing plants such as the Wood-mint and Douglas Iris.
Not all plant communities follow this structure. The Northern Coastal Scrub community consists mainly of shrub species growing tightly together with a weakly developed understory. Grassland communities generally consist only of grasses and very low-growing herbaceous plants. A careful look at the soils, fog patterns, exposure to salt spray or slope characteristics can give a clue to the differences in the growing conditions in each location.
For example, the coastal bluff community at Bird Island Trail is considered a sub-community of northern coastal scrub. The plants here must be adapted to extreme conditions: intense sun or dense fog, very shallow soils or bare rock, vertical rock faces, direct salt spray and wind. The plant adaptations to this environment are a further refinement of the northern coastal scrub species' adaptations. Indeed, many of the species are the same, although the size of the individual plants may be greatly reduced.