A forest of Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) trees once grew on California's Central Coast. Oddly enough, the tree grows better just about anywhere other than here, its native habitat—a coastal area where a rocky terrain is difficult for root growth and Pacific Ocean salt and wind are a constant assault. Today, there are only a handful of Monterey Cypresses on the California Coast, most of which are confined to two small populations that are protected within Point Lobos State Reserve and Del Monte Forest.
The most famous of them all is a short distance away, on the Monterey Peninsula. A solitary tree that has a dizzyingly beautiful view and a will to live, it is called the Lone Cypress. It stands on a craggy outcropping within a private road along 17-Mile Drive, the famously photogenic tour of coastline. For $9.50 (the cost of driving on the 17-Mile Drive), tourists can drive to the Lone Cypress, an icon that has become synonymous with California's majestic beauty. Photographed by Ansel Adams and legions of commercial and casual photographers, it is considered to be one of the most photographed trees in the country. It is also the subject of a legal dispute that asks the question: Who owns a tree's likeness?
Pebble Beach®, Pebble Beach Resorts®, The Lone Cypress™, and their respective underlying distinctive images are trademarks, service marks and trade dress of Pebble Beach Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Pebble Beach Company, which owns the property, believes that they do. Not so much because they own the land on which the tree grows, but because their brand is so closely associated with the tree. In 1919, a silhouetted rendering of the tree was registered as the company's trademark. The logo is prominently featured throughout their luxury brand, and the Pebble Beach Company believes that any image of the Monterey Peninsula Cupressus macrocarpa similarly conjures notions of Pebble Beach's famous golf course and celebrity residents. Therefore, any photograph of the tree itself is protected under a copyright by the Pebble Beach Company. Commercial use of the image is prohibited, with permissions granted for editorial use.
It's an interesting idea that brings up another question: how do plants become meaningful? What is the relationship between a plant's beauty, fragrance, utility, and its cultural associations? What do you think?
Anna Laurent is a writer and producer of educational botanical media. Photographs from her forthcoming field guide to Los Angeles are available for exhibition and purchase at her website.