This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Our readers now know what to think of the giant trees of California, which so much interested the attention of the horticultural public, and persons in general, during the closing months of the past year. The various articles which have been published in the Revue, and especially the learned notice by M. Decaisne, have removed all doubt on the subject. We thought nevertheless that, on account of the peculiar interest attached to this tree, it would be agreeable to amateurs to publish some new details collected in August, 1854, by an American traveller, Dr. F. Winslow, who communicated them to a journal published in San Francisco, the California Farmer, from which we have borrowed them through the medium of the Botanical Journal of M. Hooker and the Gardener's Chronicle.
We have said that the author of these remarks was an American; this fact should be known, inasmuch as it explains the somewhat emphatic tone of his narrative and the exaggerations which have crept into it, probably from inadvertence or from excess of admiration, and which may be readily forgiven him. He is less excusable in the impertinent remarks which, in a transport of misplaced natural self-love, he has directed to Dr. Lindley, for venturing to give a name to a California tree without con-suiting the Americans. The reasons for these objections will be seen presently; ad interim, we shall proceed to give the most useful parts of his travelling reminiscences.
"The Great Tree, (thus he distinguishes the Sequoia gigantea,) is peculiar to the Sierra Nevada, and grows no where else on the globe. I may even add, as far as my information extends, that it is entirely confined to a narrow basin of 200 acres at most, of which the soil is silicious and strewn with blocks of Lignite. This basin is very damp, and retains here and there pools of water; some of the largest of the trees extend their roots directly into the stagnant water, or into the brooks. There are more than a hundred which may be be considered as having reached the extreme limits of growth which the species can attain. One of our countrymen, Mr. Blake, measured one, of which the trunk, immediately above the root, was 94 feet in circumference. Another, which had fallen from old age, or had been uprooted by a tempest, was lying near it, of which the length from the roots to the top of branches was 450 feet. A great portion of this monster still exists, and, according to Mr. Lapham, the proprietor of the locality, (and who has undoubtedly appropriated to himself all trees by right of occupation,) at 350 feet from the roots the trunk measured 10 feet in diameter. By its fall, this tree has overthrown another not less collossal, since at the origin of the roots it is 40 feet in diameter.
This one, which appeared to me one of the greatest wonders of the forest, and compared with which man is but an imperceptible pigmy, has been hollowed, by means of fire, throughout a considerable portion of its length, so as to form an immense wooden tube of a single piece. Its size may be imagined when it is known that one of my companions, two years ago, rode on horseback in the interior of this tree for a distance of 200 feet, without any inconvenience. My companions and myself have frequently entered this tunnel and progressed some sixty paces, but have been arrested before reaching the end by masses of wood which had fallen from the ceiling. Near these overthrown giants others still are standing, not inferior to them in size, and of which the height astonishes the beholder. I can mention three particularly, which, entirely isolated, grow near each other so systematically as to appear to have been planted purposely to produce the effect. A fourth is remarkable in having, between 50 and 100 feet from the ground, its trunk divided into three enormous branches of the same size and nearly parallel, extending to a distance of more than 300 feet.
Others are distinguished by the straightness of their trunk, comparatively as delicate and erect as that of a Pine-tree, and which are not less than 350 feet in height. At some distance may be seen a species of knoll rising from the surface of the ground, and which is merely a half developed knot, the last remains of one of these monsters, which have fallen centuries ago and are now buried under the soil.
"I am informed by Mr. Lapham, that the wood of one of these trees is remarkable for its very slow decomposition. When freshly cut the fibre is white; but it soon becomes reddish, and by long exposure to the air acquires a color nearly as dark as Mahogany. Its consistence is rather feeble, nearly resembling the Pine or Cedar, but the bark covering it differs materially from the latter. It is excessively thick near the foot of the tree, sensibly elastic on pressure, and is readily divided into a mass of fibres closely resembling those constituting the husk of the cocoa-nut, but much finer. About this portion of the trunk it is split in every direction by deep cracks, but at the elevation of 100 or 180 feet, it is almost smooth and not more than two inches in thickness. At this point the bark is removed from the living tree for exportation. (How can such a sacralege be tolerated!) A hotel has been built along side of the "Great tree," the bark of which was exhibited last year at San Francisco, and, on its overturned trunk a sort of ladies' pavilion has been erected, which serves as an elegant promenade.
In order to fell it the trunk was bored, by means of a very long and powerful auger, with many holes very near to each other and arranged circularly; but even when almost detached from its bases its immense mass resisted all efforts to overthrow it. Four days subsequently it was blown down by the wind. It shook the earth when it fell, and made for itself a deep furrow in the ground in which it lies, at this moment, half buried".
It is useless to extend our quotations; they would teach us nothing new; we shall merely observe that the remarks of the American Dr. contain useful observations on the nature of the soil in which the Sequoia grows. This soil is siliceous and swampy, and, as the tree apparently grows nowhere else, these two peculiarities become very characteristic, and should be remembered by persons who may undertake its culture. He also informs us, which we omitted to state, that the atmosphere is damp, and very frequently foggy in the region in which it grows.
The narrator terminates his account by a violent diatribe against Mr. Lindley, whom he does not spare. By what right has the latter taken the liberty to rob the Americans of their Great tree, in order to dedicate it, under the name of Welling-tonia, to a hero with whom America holds no communion? The citizens of the United States should boldly assert their rights; like the English, they have a hero to immortalize by the name of a tree, that hero is Washington, who from ocean to ocean spread liberty over the New World. Without regard to the laws of botanical nomenclature, the Great tree should henceforth be called Wathingtonia Californica, or at least, if it be merely a Taxodium, T. Washingtonium.
We regret that the wish of this patriotic doctor cannot be fulfilled; but the laws of botany are stern and merciless; the "Great tree" will be the namesake of neither the great citizen of America nor of the hero of England; despite its majestic proportions, it must be content with the barbarous and almost trifling name of Sequoia. It would certainly have been desirable to attach the name of Washington to this prince of American trees; this talisman might probably have preserved it from the brutal vandalism which will soon cause its species to disappear, if the Government, or at least the enlightened men of the place, do not soon take it under their protection. Moreover, whose fault is it, that the Sequoia be so named ? Since it is a native of America, the Americans should have discovered and named it. Were they not so obstinately bound to the auriferous soil, and less solicitous for the sensualities of matter, and had they occasionally raised their eyes to Heaven, they would have discovered this wonder of creation, and not have been forestalled by Europeans. Instead, therefore, of indulging in useless recriminations, let them learn to preserve these noble monuments of nature from destruction; that will be glory enough, and a glory of which no one will think of depriving them.