Posted by: travelrat | May 10, 2020

Big Tree

In 1853, a man named Augustus T, Dowd went exploring in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. He’d heard rumours from various pioneers and native Americans about some colossal trees to be found in those hills. And, he found them; groves of gigantic trees the like of which had seldom been seen by European eyes before.

They’re not the tallest trees in the world; neither are they the oldest. But, they are the largest by volume. The tallest, called ‘General Sherman’ is about 3,500 years old, and stands at about 83 metres (275 feet), and it’s claimed it’s impossible to capture the entire tree in one photograph.

They couldn’t decide on a name for the tree; The Sierra Redwood? The Giant Sequoia? (Sequoia  comes from a native American word). The name Washingtonia, to honour the nation’s founding father, was suggested, but never really caught on. Most people simply called it The Big Tree!

Close on Dowd’s heels came the collectors. First came John Matthew, who sent some seeds to his father in Perth, Later in the same year came William Lobb, who sent vast quantities of seeds to his employers, Veitch of Exeter.

The seeds took well in the English climate; the trees grew quickly, and were much sought after by people who wanted ever more exotic trees and plants for their gardens. In England, it was usually called the Wellingtonia, in honour of the soldier and politician the Duke of Wellington, who had recently passed away.

The sequoia groves of California have been on my bucket list since I was six years old. The reason was … we had a Wellingtonia in the yard of our primary school. Although a comparative youth of about a hundred years old, it was still a considerable size. We once stood around the trunk holding hands, and it took (I think??) ten of us to completely encircle it.

Our teacher told us that, in their native land, they grew much bigger, and showed us a photograph of one with a hole cut in the trunk, through which someone had driven a car. Another photograph showed how they built a two-land bowling alley on the trunk of one that had been felled. And, some years later I saw (can’t remember where; Kew Gardens I think???) a section of trunk on which significant events of world history were flagged. For instance, the tree was a considerable size when Columbus ‘discovered’ America.

For us kids, we found that the egg-shaped cones made good (although somewhat painful if they hit the ‘enemy’) hand grenades for a game of soldiers. And, the bark was so thick and spongy that you could punch it quite hard and not hurt yourself.

And, here are two of my grandchildren, with a Wellingtonia we came across in the gardens at Kenilworth Castle, putting that little factoid to the test!



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