This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In the fall of 1874, Mr. F. M. Ring, of San Gorgonia Pass, California, sent to the Department of Agriculture some cones and twigs of a coniferous tree, of which he desired to know the name. The striking resemblance of the cones to those of Abies Douglasii was very apparent, but their great size and weight were remarkable. I requested from Mr. Ring more detailed information of the characteristic marks of his tree. In reply, under date of Nov. 25th, 1874, he wrote as follows: " The tree in question is called here a fir tree; it is the first pine tree met with in ascending from the plain to the mountains, growing in the canons of the foot hills, and in this locality is the most common of the evergreens. As you ascend in the mountains it becomes scarce, and is not found higher up than about five thousand feet. It attains a large size, from two to three feet in diameter, and from sixty to eighty feet high; the usual size, however, is about a foot and a half in diameter, and fifty feet high. Its appearance is peculiar, different from the other pines found with it. This is caused by its manner of growth, the limbs extending straight out from the trunk without bending up or down.
It is a fine spreading tree, even when growing thickly together, and I think would make a highly ornamental one if planted singly or in groups in open ground."
The leaves had all dropped from the twigs sent by Mr. Ring, and as it appeared too late for more specimens that year, I deferred the matter until the coming year. In the meantime the cones were seen by Dr. Gray and Dr. Engelmann. Dr. E. was particularly interested in the matter, and desired more information and specimens. I accordingly applied again to Mr. Ring last summer, and under date of September 14th, 1875, he writes as follows:
"I have endeavored to find some cones of the fir tree, but have not succeeded so far. This year there appear to be very few cones formed; last year the trees were loaded with them, but now I can find none but the old ones which still hang upon them. The cones that I sent you came off separate trees, and were of the average size; all the trees of this sort bear cones of about the same size; there are none intermediate in size as far as, I can discover. If by the Abies Douglasii you mean the Douglas spruce of the northwest coast, I should say that the tree in question is not the same. It has not the same general appearance, and grows under quite different circumstances. It is not nearly so large as the Douglas spruce, and the branches are much longer in proportion to the height of the tree. The branches appear to me to be singularly long and spreading, in marked contrast with the other cone-bearing trees. The bark of the old trees is quite deeply furrowed; in the young ones not so much so, but it is never smooth."
In addition to the information sought for from Mr. Ring, I also instructed Dr. Ed. Palmer, who was making collections in Southern California, to search for the tree, and to get specimens and a section of the trunk. He was successful in finding the tree in San Felipe Canon, in the mountains northeast of San Diego. The section of wood has not yet come to hand', but the specimens of twigs and cones have. The twigs seem to be longer and slimmer than those of Abies Douglasii, and the leaves are rather more acutely pointed, but otherwise there is no apparent difference. But the cones hold out in entire accordance with those sent by Mr. Ring. They are old cones, Dr. Palmer stating that no new cones were to be found. They are five inches long by two and one-half inches in diameter, composed of about 60 scales, which in the centre of the cone are one and a half to one and three-fourths inches wide. The bracts can hardly be distinguished from those of Abies Douglasii except that they do not project so far beyond the scale. The difference in the cones of the two kinds is most strikingly shown by their comparative weight.
Five average sized cones of the San Gorgonia specimens weighed 202 grammes, equal to six and one-third ounces; while five cones of the average size of the ordinary form of Abies Douglasii, weighed but thirty-eight and one-half grammes, or less than one-fifth as much. The seeds are triangular, brown outside, and white on the under side, with a wing twice as long as the seed, together being seven-eighths of an inch to one inch long. The seeds are much heavier than those of the ordinary Abies Douglasii.
In recent investigations of the collections of the Department, a cone was found marked Abies Douglasii, var. macrocarpa, collected at San Felipe, Cal., Nov. 16th, 1857, with the note, " cone five inches long, I. S. N. Ives' Colorado Exp." On referring to the report of Ives' expedition, we find Abies Douglasii var. macrocarpa referred to from the mountains near San Felipe The cone corresponds exactly with those obtained by Dr. Palmer. Further examination of the range of this form, and of the permanence of the peculiar characteristics stated is desirable, but it would seem from what we now know of it, that it deserves to rank as a new species, in which event no more appropriate name could be found.