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Broadleaved Trees of Yosemite National Park (1947) by C. Frank Brockman


Visitors to Yosemite National Park will note a number of interesting trees which were planted in the early days before this area became a national park (1) and which, although they are not native to this area, have been allowed to remain because of their association with the early history of the region. In this category fall the American elm, the black locust, and sugar maple, found in a number of places on the Valley floor, as well as several kinds of fruit trees.

The latter are, perhaps, the most conspicuous and best known of these introduced trees. With few exceptions they are apple trees and, insofar as the valley is concerned, are contained primarily in three orchards (2). One of these is included within the parking area near Camp Curry, a second will be noted in the meadow just east of the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. stables, and a third is in the vicinity of the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. utility area near the road between Yosemite Lodge and Government Center.

The first two orchards were planted by James C. Lamon, the first settler in Yosemite Valley. He arrived here in June 1859, located a pre-emption claim of 160 acres in the fall of that year and built a small cabin of logs near the present Yosemite Park and Curry Co. stables. His two orchards were planted soon after. Today they are composed almost entirely of apple trees, although one pear tree can be found in the orchard near the stables. Apparently, in the early days they contained plum and peach trees as well (3). The orchard near the Company utility area was planted by James Mason Hutchings who had returned to the Valley in 1864 as a hotel owner (4). This orchard adjoined his residence, which he constructed on the north side of Yosemite Valley a few years later. Although the Hutchings residence was eliminated many years ago the orchard still remains. It consists mostly of apple trees, but a few cherry trees will also be found.

Hutchings also planted a row of American elms along the route of the present road that crosses the meadow north of the present Sentinel Bridge. These were grown from seed supplied by Rev. Joseph Worcester

American elm and black locust in Old Village
[click to enlarge]
Photo by Anderson

American elm and black locust in Old Village
of Waltham, Massachusetts (5). Of these trees only one remains. It can be found near the road intersection on the north side of the Valley opposite the Sentinel Bridge.

American elms as well as black locusts will also be noted in the Old Village. Trees of the latter species will also be found in the pioneer cemetery (near the Park Museum), in the vicinity of Camp Curry, and along the highway near the start of the Four Mile Trail. The black locusts in the latter place are reminders of the period in Yosemite history when that area was an important public center in the Valley (6). In addition two sugar maples will be found in the Old Village just east of the general store (7).

These “outsiders” of the original generation remain among the natives by sufferance. It is the policy of the National Park Service to eliminate in so far as possible all exotic plants and animals which may gain a foothold in the national parks, but these living relics of pioneer days in Yosemite Valley may remain until Nature deals the inevitable death blow. They will not be replaced except by their scattered progeny which may escape the watchful eye of the forester. In time, even the scattered progeny will succumb to Nature’s control.

For those visitors who may wish to seek and identify the American elm, the black locust, and the sugar maple in Yosemite Valley, a description of these species follows.

(1) The Yosemite Valley area and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias—originally known as the Yosemite Grant— was entrusted to the State of California by the Federal Government in 1864. Yosemite National Park, which included an area surrounding Yosemite Valley, was established on October 1, 1890. In 1906 the two areas comprising the original Yosemite Grant were receded to the Federal Government by the State and incorporated into Yosemite National Park.

(2) Apple trees will also be noted in the Wawona area. According to Mr. Ed. Gordon, old time Wawona resident, the apple orchard in that section was planted in the early days of George Conway. In addition to the orchard a few apple trees will be found in the rear of the Wawona hotel, as well as in the vicinity of the spring west of the meadow. These were transplanted by the Washburn Brothers about sixty year ago.

(3) See Taylor, Mrs. H. J. Yosemite Indians and Other Sketches; San Francisco, California, Johnck and Seeger, 1936. pp. 15-26.

(4) In June 1855 James Mason Hutchings, contemplating the publication of his “California Magazine,” visited Yosemite Valley with several companions—among them the artist Thomas Ayres—for the purpose of gathering data and making sketches for publication. This is credited with being the first “tourist visit” to the Valley, since it was prompted wholly by interest in its scenic values. Several earlier journeys had been made to the region but the principal interest in such cases had been that of pursuing Indians, following the Indian trouble of 1850-51, or prospecting. It was from the meager reports of these earlier expeditions that Hutchings’ interest was aroused. From the time of his first visit Hutchings always had a deep affection for Yosemite. In 1864 he purchased the “Upper Hotel” (constructed by Beardsley and Hite in 1857-59), which was located on the south side of the road opposite the present Sentinel Bridge, and rechristened it “Hutchings House.” It was later to become famous as Cedar Cottage, a name applied due to the fact that one of the many additions to the original structure was constructed about a large California incense cedar. See Russell, C. P. 100 Years in Yosemite; Stanford University Press; 1931. pp. 99-125.

(5) See Hutchings, J. M. In The Heart of the Sierras; Pacific Press Publishing House, Oakland, California; 1886, pp. 134-138.

(6) In 1856 Walworth and Hite undertook the construction of the first building designed to serve the needs of early visitors to Yosemite Valley. It occupied a site at the base of Sentinel Rock near the start of the present Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. Completed in 1857, it thus became the first hotel in this area. In 1869 this original structure was dismantled by A. G. Black who utilized the site in the construction of a new hotel. In the same year G. F. Leidig constructed another hotel nearby. Originally the Yosemite Chapel, built in 1879, occupied a place in this area, and the Guardian of the Yosemite Grant was located here for a time. In 1888 all these buildings were razed, with the exception of the Chapel which was moved to its present site in the Old Village.

(7) These trees mark the site of the photographic studio, operated by Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Boysen, which was located at that point for many years. From information received from Mrs. Ellen St. Clair—daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Boysen—these trees were planted in 1902, 1903, or 1904 from stock received from Vermont.

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