DEL MAR — If you’ve taken a hike in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, it’s possible you’ve walked past the short-leaved liveforever — more formally termed dudleya brevifolia — without blinking an eye.
And that’s deliberate: the rare, pebble-shaped succulent has won its namesake through its ability to survive by remaining elusive, as well as adapting to withstand the heat. But despite its best efforts, the plant is becoming increasingly rare.
The Chaparral Lands Conservancy, a San Diego-based organization that conducts various habitat restoration-related projects in the region, is making an effort to revive the species.
Conservancy director David Hogan, in partnership with staff from San Diego Zoo Global, planted 50 lifeforever plants in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve on Jan. 4.
Although giving the plants a home took only four hours, the group’s efforts began long before: staff collected seeds of the endangered plant several years ago to start the process of growing them to maturity at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s seed bank.
Once the liveforevers were ready to be planted, the group settled on suitable habitats for the plants, drilling holes in the sandstone to accommodate them and backfilling the holes with sand to support the plant’s roots.
“The hope is they will be happy in their new home,” Hogan said, predicting that the coming rainfall would help the liveforevers begin to thrive.
The group’s efforts were funded by grants from the San Diego Association of Governments’ Environmental Mitigation Program and the Torrey Pines Association.
Hogan said that before the group installed the new plants, there were likely no more than 60 liveforevers in the reserve.
According to Hogan, the plant has struggled in the past largely due to development — though it was found in less than 20 documented areas even before the area experienced widespread settlement.
“These red sandstone coastal bluffs are the preferred habitat of both the dudleya, and mansion owners,” Hogan said.
Now, the species grows in just five locations in the world: La Jolla, Del Mar and Carmel Valley.
Though maintained in nature preserves, the biggest threat to the species’ current existence is trampling by preserve visitors.
However, Hogan said there is the added worry that rare plant collectors may become privy to the plant’s location, and attempt to take them from their natural home.
As such, he requested that The Coast News not disclose the exact location of where the liveforevers were planted.
“We don’t have any direct evidence, it’s just a concern,” Hogan said, referring to poaching rings in California that have directly targeted the liveforever.
For Hogan, the work is linked to a larger desire to sustain a diversity of plant species in the population.
“San Diego County has more endangered species than any other county in the United States,” he said. “We are an epicenter for the loss of biological diversity on a global scale. This plant is one element of that global crisis.”
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.