1902 Encyclopedia > Sequoia


SEQUOIA, a genus of conifers, allied to Taxodiun\ and Cryptomeria, forming one of several surviving links between the firs and the cypresses. The two species usually placed in this group are evergreen trees of large size, indigenous to the west coast of North America. Both bear their round or ovoid male catkins at the ends of the slender terminal branchlets; the ovoid cones, either terminal or on short lateral twigs, have thick woody scales dilated at the extremity, with a broad disk depressed in the centre and usually furnished wdth a short spine; at the base of the scales are from three to seven ovules, which become reversed or partially so by compression, ripening into small angular seeds with a narrow wing-like expansion.

The redwood of the Californian woodsmen, S. semper-virens, which may be regarded as the typical form, abounds on the Coast Range from the southern borders of the State northwards into Oregon, and, according to De Candolle, as far as Nootka Sound. It grows to a gigantic size: a trunk has been recorded 270 feet in length, and a greater height is said to be occasionally reached, while a diameter of from 12 to 15 feet is sometimes attained at the base. In old

[IMAGE] Sequoia semperoirens—a, green cones and catkin; b, section of cone; c, scale of cone.

age the huge columnar trunk rises to a great height bare of boughs, while on the upper part the branches are short and irregular. The bark is red, like that of the Scotch fir, deeply furrowed, with the ridges often much curved and twisted. When young the tree is one of the most graceful of the conifers : the stem rises straight and taper-ing, with somewhat irregular whorls of drooping branches, the lower ones sweeping the ground,—giving an elegant conical outline. The twigs are densely clothed with flat spreading linear leaves of a fine glossy green above and glaucous beneath; in the old trees they become shorter and more rigid and partly lose their distichous habit. The globular brown catkins appear early in June; the cones, from 1 to 2 inches long, are at first of a bluish green colour, but when mature change to a reddish brown ; the scales are very small at the base, dilating into a broad thick head, with a short curved spine below the deep transverse depression. The redwood forms woods of large extent on the seaward slope of the Coast Range and occurs in isolated groups farther inland. From the great size of the trunk and the even grain of the red cedar-like wood it is a valuable tree to the farmer and carpenter : it splits readily and evenly, and planes and polishes well; cut radially, the medullary plates give the wood a fine satiny lustre; it is strong and durable, but not so elastic as many of the western pines and firs. In England the tree grows well in warm situations, but suffers much in severe winters, —its graceful form rendering it ornamental in the park or garden, where it sometimes grows 30 or 40 feet in height; its success as a timber tree would be doubtful. In the eastern parts of the United States it does not flourish. Discovered by Menzies in the end of the 18th century, it has long been known in British nurseries under the name of Taxodium semperoirens.

The only other member of the genus is the giant tree of the Sierra Nevada, S. gigantea, the largest of known conifers; it is confined to the western portion of the great Californian range, occurring chiefly in detached groups locally called " groves," at an altitude of from 4000 to 5000 feet above the sea. The leaves of this species are awl-shaped, short and rigid, with pointed apex ; closely ad-pressed, they completely cover the branchlets. The male catkins are small, solitary, and are borne at the ends of the twigs; the cones are from 1J to 3 inches long, ovoid, with scales thicker at the base than those of the redwood, and bearing below the depression a slender prickle. The young tree is more formal and rigid in growth than S. sempervirens, but when old the outline of the head becomes cylindrical, with short branches sparsely clad with foliage sprays. The bark, of nearly the same tint as that of the redwood, is extremely thick and is channelled towards the base with vertical furrows ; at the root the ridges often stand out in buttress-like projections. Some of these vast vegetable columns are upwards of 30 feet in diameter and a few have attained a height of 400 feet or more.

The famous group known as the Mammoth Grove of Calaveras in California, containing above ninety large trees, stands in 38° N. lat., about 4370 feet above the sea, between the San Antonio and Stanislaus rivers. According to Viseher, it was discovered by a hunter in pursuit of a bear in 1852, but had apparently been visited before, as the date 1850 is cut on one of the trees. The bark of one of the finest trunks was foolishly stripped off to the height of 116 feet, and exhibited in New York and London ; it now stands in the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. The tree, known as the ' ' mother of the forest, " soon died ; at the base it measured 90 feet in girth, and the dead tree was 321 feet high ; a prostrate trunk in the neighbourhood is 18 feet in diameter 300 feet from the base. Some trees in the Mariposa grove rival these in size : one measures 101 feet round the root, and a cut stump is 31 feet in diameter. Gigantic as these trees are and imposing from their vast columnar trunks, they have little beauty, owing to the scanty foliage of the short rounded boughs ; some of the trees stand very close together ; they are said to be about 400 in number. Some are of vast age, perhaps 3000 years or more ; they appear to be the remains of extensive woods belonging to a past epoch, and probabljr have been in distant time much injured by forest fires. The growth of the "mammoth tree" is fast when young, but old trees increase with extreme slowness. The timber is not of great value, but the heartwood is dense and of deeper colour than that of S. sempervirens, varying from brownish red to very deep brown ; oiled and varnished, it has been used in cabinet work. S. gigantea was brought to England by Lobb in 1853, and received from Dr Lindley the name of Wellingtonia, by which it is still popularly known, though its affinity to the redwood is too marked to admit of generic distinction. In America it is sometimes called Washing- Ionia. In the Atlantic States it does not succeed ; and, though nearly hardy in Great Britain, it is planted only as an ornament of the lawn or paddock. It is never likely to acquire any economic importance in Europe. (C. P. J.)

The above article was written by: C. Pierpoint Johnson.

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