The incense cedar (Libocedius decurrens) is one of the valued trees of the California coast and mountains. It is eminently noted for great rapidity of growth, wonderful lightness, stiffness, and extraordinary durability. A thousand uses have sprung up and are multiplying around this interesting cedar as its most inestimable qualities become better known. Fortunately it is one of the most extensively distributed trees of the Pacific - found from the coast range north, south to San Diego, Sierra Nevada, southern Oregon, and most of the interior mountain region from 2,000 to 4,000 feet, and it even thrives quite well at 6,600 feet altitude, but seeming to give out at 7,000 feet, though said to extend to 8,500 feet, which is questionable. As usual with the sylva, flora, and fauna, this also is found lowest along the coast, where it finds the requisite temperature and other essentials, with combined moisture. The base and lower trunk somewhat resembles the Western juniper (J. occidentalis). It is to be noted in general that trees of such broad, outwardly sweeping, or expanded bases seldom blow over, and to the perceptive and artistic eye their significant character is one of firmness and stability.
One hundred to two hundred feet high, six to nine feet in diameter (rarely larger) the shaft is often clear of limbs 80 to 100 feet, and although the lower limbs, or even dry branches, may encumber the middle portion, pin-knots do not damage the timber. The massive body tapers more rapidly above than redwood, and is less eccentric than juniper, yet its general port resembles most the best specimens of the latter. The light cinnamon bark is thick and of shreddy-fibered texture, but so concretely compacted as to render the surface evenly ridged by very long, big bars of bark. These sweep obliquely down on the long spiral twist of swift water lines. The top is conic, the foliage is in compressed, flattened sprays, upright, thickened, and somewhat succulent; if not a languid type, at least in no sense rigid. It bears some resemblance to the great Western arborvitae (Thuja gigantea), but the tiny leaf-scales are opposite and quite awl-pointed. The general hue of the foliage is light yellowish green, warmly tinted, golden and bead tipped, with tiny, oblong male catkins, as the fruit ripens in October and November. The cones are pendulous from the tips of twigs, oblong, and seldom over three-quarters of an inch long, little more than one-third as thick, and for the most part a trifle compressed.
The wood is a pale cream-tint in color - a delicate salmon shade. This would hardly warrant the name white cedar, sometimes applied to it, as well as the giant arborvitae. The extreme lightness of the lumber and its sweetness for packing boxes will commend it for express and commercial purposes, for posts and fencing, and especially railway ties, for sleepers, stringers, and ground timbers of all varieties, and for unnumbered uses, a tithe of which cannot be told in a brief notice. Formerly these trees were cut away and burned up, to clear the track for redwood, tamarack, and ponderous pith-pines, etc.; now all else is superseded by this incense cedar. Thus is seen how hasty and ill-advised notions give place to genuine merit.
A fungus (daedalus) attacks and honeycombs it; and riddled as it may occasionally be, still, if spike or nail finds substance enough to hold, or sufficient solidity to resist crushing, then, for many purposes, even such lumber is practically as good as the soundest timber; because when the tree dies the fungus dies, and thenceforth will absorb no more moisture than the soundest part, and is alike imperishable, contrary to common experience in similar cases. This is a timber nearly as lasting as solid granite. For ship or boat lumber, the clear stuff from sound wood is so exceedingly light, stiff, and durable, and so plenty and available, that few timbers excel it, unless the yellow cedar or cyprus (Cupressus nutkaensis) is excepted, which is a little tougher, stronger, perhaps more elastic, and equally durable, if judged apart from thorough tests and careful data, which, it has been remarked, the apathy or ignorance of some governments appear to deem unworthy their sublime attention. There are said to be in California a thousand times more and better kinds of naval timbers on government lands as important to preserve as the live oaks of the South Atlantic States. It has been asserted as probable that, after due investigation, California would be found to possess a vast amount of the best naval timber in the world, a hundredfold more lasting than the best now in use, if a few woods are excepted, of which there is understood to be no very adequate supply.
The great Washington cedar (Sequoia gigantea) is another important California tree. The great sequoian timber belt lies along the Sierras, upon the first exposed mountain side - moraines of recent retiring glaciers - that face the Pacific, from Calaveras on the north to near the head of Deer Creek on the south - a distance of 200 miles, or a little above 38 degrees north to a little below 36 degrees; altitude 5,000 to 8,000 feet, and rarely 8,400 feet. The belt is broken by two gaps, each 40 miles wide, caused by manifest topographical and glacial reasons, one gap between Calaveras and Tuolumne, the other between Fresno and King's River; thence the vast forest trends south, across the broad basins of Kaweah and Tule, a distance of 70 miles, on fresh moraine soil, ground from high mountain flanks by glaciers. The inscriptions are scarcely marred by post glacial agents, and the contiguous water-worn marks are often so slight in the rock-bound streams as to be measured by a few inches. Rarely does one of these sound and vigorous cedars fall, and those that do will lie 800 to 1,000 years, scarcely less perishable than the granite on which they grew.
The great sequoian ditches, dug at a blow by their fall, and the tree tumuli, always turned up beside the deep root-bowls, remain; but, scientists assert, not a vestige of one outside the present forests has yet presented itself, hence the area has not been diminished during the last 8,000 or 10,000 years, and probably not at all in post glacial times. These colossal sequoias rise 275, 300, and even 400 feet aloft; are 20 to 30, and in some rare cases 40 feet in diameter, looking like vast columnar pillars of the skies. No known trees of the world compare with them and their kin, the redwoods, for the focused proximity of such a marvelous amount of timber within limited areas - as it were, the highest standard of timber-land capacity. The stage coach passes through one; 120 children and a piano crowd inside another; a trunk furnishes a house for cotillon parties to dance "stout on stumps;" a horse and rider travel within the burnt-out hollows of others, and so on. A single tree would furnish a two-rail fence, 20 to 30 miles long.
The tree has great value for wood and lumber. - N.W. Lumberman.
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