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THE YOSEMITE BOOK by Josiah D. Whitney (1869)

CHAPTER V.
THE BIG TREES.

The fact that, in addition to the Yosemite Valley, already described in the preceding pages, Congress has given to the State of California, to hold as a public park, one of the largest and finest groves of the so-called (par excellence) Big Trees, makes it incumbent on us to devote one chapter of the present volume to a statement of some of the most interesting facts concerning these truly remarkable productions of the vegetable kingdom. This we do the more readily, as it is astonishing how little that is really reliable is to be found in all that has been published about the Big Trees. No correct statement of their distribution or dimensions has appeared in print; and, if their age has been correctly stated in one or two scientific journals, no such information ever finds its way into the popular descriptions of this tree, which are repeated over and over again in contributions to newspapers, and in books of travel. For all the statements here made, the Geological Survey is responsible, except when it is otherwise expressly stated. For the history of the botanical name of this species, I am specially indebted to Professor Brewer, Botanist of the Survey, who has investigated this somewhat complicated subject with care and with access to all the authorities.

According to Mr. Hutchings’s statement, the Calaveras Grove of Big Trees was the first one discovered by white men, and the date was the spring of 1852. The person who first stumbled on these vegetable monsters was Mr. A. T. Dowd, a hunter employed by the Union Water Company to supply the men in their employ with fresh meat, while digging a canal to bring water down to Murphy’s. According to the accounts, the discoverer found that his story gained so little credence among the workmen, that he was obliged to resort to a ruse to get them to the spot where the trees were.

The wonderful tale of the Big Trees soon found its way into the papers, and appears to have been first published in the Sonora Herald, the nearest periodical to the locality. The account was republished, among other papers, in the Echo du Pacific of San Francisco, then copied into the London Athenaeum of July 23rd, 1853, (p. 892), which is believed to be the first notice published in Europe, and from there again into the Gardener’s Chronicle of London, where it appeared July 30th, 1853, (p. 488). In the last-named journal, for December 24th, page 819, Dr. Lindley published the first scientific description of the Big Tree. Overlooking its close affinity with the already described redwood, he regarded it as the type of a new genus, which he called Wellingtonia, adding the specific name of gigantea. His specimens were received from Mr. William Lobb, through Messrs. Veitch & Sons, well-known nurserymen. The tree had been previously brought to the notice of scientific men in San Francisco, and specimens had been sent to Dr. Torrey in New York considerably earlier than to Dr. Lindley, but the specimens were lost in transmission; and, no description having been published in San Francisco, although Drs. Kellogg and Behr had brought it to the notice of the California Academy early that year as a new species, the honor and opportunity of naming it was lost to American botanists. The closely allied species of the same genus, the Sequoia sempervirens, the redwood, had been named and described by Endlicher in 1847, and was well known to botanists all over the world in 1852.

At the meeting of the “Societé Botanique de France,” held June 28th, 1854, the eminent botanist Decaisne presented specimens of the two species, the Big Tree and the redwood, with those of other Californian coniferae, recently received from the Consular Agent of France at San Francisco. At this meeting M. Decaisne gave his reasons, at some length, for considering the redwood and the more recently discovered “Big Tree” to belong to the same genus, Sequoia, and, in accordance with the rules of botanical nomenclature, called the new species Sequoia gigantea. The report of these proceedings is to be found in the Bulletin de la Societé Botanique de France, vol. 1, page 70, which was issued in July (probably) of 1854.

In the meantime, specimens had been received by Dr. Torrey at New York, and in September of the same year (1854), Professor Gray of Cambridge published, in the American Journal of Science, appended to a notice of the age of the redwood, a statement, on his own authority, that a comparison of the cones of that tree and those of the so-called Wellingtonia of Lindley, did not bring to view any differences adequate to the establishment of a new genus. To this Professor Gray adds: “the so-called Wellingtonia will hereafter bear the name imposed by Dr. Torrey, namely that of Sequoia gigantea.” It does not appear, however, on examination, that Dr. Torrey had himself published any description of the Big Tree, or of the fact that he considered it generically identical with the redwood, and priority seems to have been secured by Decaisne, so that the name must now stand as Sequoia gigantea, Decaisne. It is to the happy accident of the generic agreement of the Big Tree with the redwood that we owe it, that we are not now obliged to call the largest and most interesting tree of America after an English military hero; had it been an English botanist of the highest eminence, the dose would not have been so unpalatable.

No other plant ever attracted so much attention or attained such a celebrity within so short a period. The references to it in scientific works and journals already number between one and two hundred, and it has been the theme of innumerable articles in popular periodicals and books of travel, in various languages; probably there is hardly a newspaper in Christendom that has not published some item on the subject.

Seeds were first sent to Europe and the Eastern States in 1853, and since that time immense numbers have found their way to market. They germinate readily, and it is probable that hundreds of thousands of the trees (millions it is said) are growing in different parts of the world from seeds planted. They flourish with peculiar luxuriance in Great Britain, and grow with extraordinary rapidity. Numerous examples are cited where they have grown over two feet per year, and have produced cones when four or five years old. Some marked gardener’s varieties are already in the market.

The genus was named in honor of Sequoia* [*This is the way the name was spelt in an article published in the ”Country Gentleman“ which attracted Endlicher’s attention, and led him to adopt this name for the genus. It is also, and more generally spelt “Sequoyah,” which is the English way of writing it, while the other is what it would naturally and properly be in Latin.] or Sequoyah, a Cherokee Indian of mixed blood, better known by his English name of George Guess, who is supposed to have been born about 1770 and who lived in Will’s Valley, in the extreme northeastern corner of Alabama, among the Cherokees. He became known to the world by his invention of an alphabet and written language for his tribe. This alphabet, which was constructed with wonderful ingenuity, consisted of eighty-six characters, each representing a syllable; and it had already come into use, to a considerable extent, before the whites had heard anything of it. After a time the missionaries took up Sequoyah’s idea, and had types cast and a printing press supplied to the Cherokee nation, and a newspaper was started in 1828, partly in this character. Driven with the rest of his tribe, beyond the Mississippi, he died in New Mexico, in 1843. His remarkable alphabet is still in use, although destined to pass away with his nation; but not into oblivion, for his name attached to one of the grandest and most impressive productions of the vegetable kingdom will forever keep his memory green.* [*For the above particulars of Sequoyah’s history, and several other items which we have not here space to publish, we are indebted to Professor Brewer.]

Having given a few items in the history of the discovery of the Big Trees, we will pass on to detail some of the facts in regard to their geographical distribution, age, size, and appearance, with which it will be desirable for travellers to be acquainted. The Big Tree is extremely limited to its range; even more so than its twin brother, the redwood. The latter is strictly a Coast Range or seaboard tree; the other inland, or exclusively limited to the Sierra. Both trees are, also, peculiarly Californian. A very few of the redwood may be found just across the border in Oregon, but the Big Tree has never been found outside of California, and probably never will be.† [†There are several fossil species of the genus Sequoia. The Miocene Tertiary of Greenland, in 70° north latitude, furnishes one—the Sequoia Langsdorffii—which, according to the eminent botanist Heer, can with difficulty be distinguished from the redwood of California; it may, perhaps, be identical with it. The statement above, that the Sequoia is a peculiarly Californian genus, must be understood as referring to the vegetation of the present geological epoch, and not to that of former ages.]

The redwood forms an interrupted belt along the Coast Ranges, from about latitude 36° to 42°, or from a little below the head of the Nacimiento river, north to the northern boundary of the State. Between the southern termination of the belt and Carmelo, the redwoods occur but sparingly, nowhere forming extensive groves; and from Carmelo to the Pajaro river they are interrupted altogether. Near the last-named place this tree sets in again, and forms a tolerably continuous belt north to a point nearly opposite Half-Moon Bay, keeping well upon the western side of the ridges, but descending on the eastern side into the cañons. There were formerly fine redwoods opposite San Francisco, along the crest of the Contra Costa Hills; but they are now all cut down. The small patches of them in Marin Country are fast going the same way. Beyond Russian River, however, the belt of redwoods widens out rapidly, forming almost a continuous forest, some ten or fifteen miles in width, up to the northern end of Mendocino County, or for more than a hundred miles. From here north, through Humboldt, Klamath and Del Norte counties, this tree occurs in more or less disconnected patches, some of which, however, cover an extensive area. In this direction the redwood gradually approaches the coast, and at Humboldt and Trinity Bays, and near Crescent City, is directly upon the ocean. Mr. Bolander thinks that his observations show clearly that the redwood is exclusively confined to a peculiar kind of rock—the metamorphic sandstone—and it is certain, also, that it will only flourish where it is frequently enveloped in the ocean fogs.

The redwood is the glory of the Coast Ranges; its gigantic size and its beauty of form and foliage entitle it to a place hardly second to that of the Big Tree itself, as may be gathered from the following facts, derived chiefly from the notes of Messrs. Brewer and Bolander.

Near Santa Cruz is a redwood grove of great beauty; the largest tree is 50 feet in circumference at the base and 275 feet high. Near Crescent City Professor Brewer measured one 58 feet in circumference at four feet from the ground, and it scarcely swelled at all at its base. Several persons stated, however, that there were larger ones south of this, and that near the Klamath River, there were some as much as thirty feet in diameter. Mr. Ashburner heard of a hollow redwood stump, seven miles back from Eureka, thirty-eight feet in diameter, in which thirty-three pack-mules were corralled at one time. Mr. Bolander reported a redwood twenty-five feet in diameter, near Little River, Mendocino County.

During the stormy winter of 1861-2, immense numbers of redwood logs were carried out to sea, along the coast in the northern part of the State. They were so abundant, as to be dangerous to ships, at a distance of over 150 miles from land. During a heavy southwest gale, great numbers of these were cast on shore near Crescent City, and thrown together in gigantic piles. Professor Brewer measured a dozen of these broken, battered logs, and found them to vary from 120 to 210 feet in length; one of 200 feet was ten feet in diameter at the base, and another of 210 feet was three feet in diameter at the little end. Accurate measurements of the height of the trees standing in the forests of this region are wanting; but there are supposed to be many redwoods from 250 to 300 feet in elevation.

Thus we see, that in size the redwood falls but very little below the Big Tree, and it is not impossible that some of the former may yet be found as large as any of the latter. In general effect the forests of redwood, in the opinion of Professor Brewer, surpass even the groves of Big Trees. The great reason for this is, that the redwood forms frequently almost the entire forest, while the Big Tree nowhere occurs except scattered among other trees, and never in clusters or groups isolated from other species. Let one imagine an entire forest, extending as far as the eye can reach, of trees from eight to twelve feet in diameter and from 200 to 300 feet high, thickly grouped, their trunks marvellously straight, not branching until they reach from 100 to 150 feet above the ground, and then forming a dense canopy, which shuts out the view of the sky, the contrast of the bright cinnamon-colored trunks with the sombre, deep yet brilliant, green of the foliage, the utter silence of these forests, where often no sound can be heard except the low thunder of the breaking surf of the distant ocean—let one picture to himself a scene like this, and he may perhaps receive a faint impression of the majestic grandeur of the redwood forests of California.

The Big Trees occur exclusively in “groves,” or scattered over limited areas, never forming groups by themselves, but always disseminated among a much larger number of trees of other kinds. These patches on which the Big Trees stand do not equal in area a hundredth part of that which the redwoods cover exclusively. We are quite unable to state the number of square miles or acres on which the Big Trees grow, except for two of the groves, the Calaveras and Mariposa, both of which have been carefully surveyed by our parties. It may be roughly stated, however, that this area does not, so far as yet known, exceed fifty square miles, and that most of this is in one patch, between King’s and Kaweah Rivers, as will be noticed farther on.

The groves of the Big Trees are limited in latitude between 36° and 38° 15’, nearly; at least so far as we now know. The Calaveras Grove is the most northerly, and one on the South Fork of the Tule is the farthest south of any yet known to us. They are also quite limited in vertical range, since they nowhere descend much below 5,000, or rise above 7,000 feet. They follow the other trees of California in this respect, that they occur lower down on the Sierra as we go northwards; the most northerly grove, that of Calaveras, is the lowest in elevation above the sea-level.

We will first describe, or notice, so far as our space allows, the different groves which have been discovered, giving more details of that one which has been given by Congress to the State of California “for public use and recreation,” and we will then state some general facts connected with this species, which will be better understood after reading what has preceded.

There are eight distinct patches or groves of the Big Trees; or nine, if we should consider the Mariposa trees as belonging to two different groups, which is hardly necessary, inasmuch as there is only a ridge half a mile in width separating the upper grove from the lower. The eight groves are, in geographical order from north to south: first, the Calaveras; second, the Stanislaus; third, Crane Flat; fourth, Mariposa; fifth, Fresno; sixth, King’s and Kaweah Rivers; seventh, North Fork Tule River; eighth, South Fork Tule River. These we will now notice in the above order, beginning with the one best known and most visited.

The Calaveras grove is situated in the county of that name, about sixteen miles from Murphy’s Camp, and near the Stanislaus River. It is on, or near, the road crossing the Sierra by the Silver Mountain Pass. This being the first grove of the Big Trees discovered and the most accessible, it has come more into notice and been much more visited than any of the others; indeed, this and the Mariposa Grove are the only ones which have become a resort for travellers. The Calaveras Grove has also the great advantage over the others, that a good hotel is kept there, and that it is accessible on wheels, all the others being at a greater or less distance from any road.

This grove occupies a belt 3,200 feet long by 700 feet broad, extending in a northwest and southeast direction, in a depression between two slopes, through which meanders a small brook which dries up in the summer. There are between 90 and 100 trees of large size in the grove, and a considerable number of small ones, chiefly on the outskirts. Several have fallen since the grove was discovered; one has been cut down; and one has had the bark stripped from it, up to the height of 116 feet above the ground. The bark, thus removed, was exhibited in different places, and finally found a resting place in the Sydenham Crystal Palace, where it was unfortunately burned, in the fire which consumed a part of that building a few years since. The two trees thus destroyed were perhaps the finest in the grove; the tallest now standing is the one called the “Keystone State;” the largest and finest is known as the “Empire State.” The height of this grove above the sea-level is 4,759 feet.

The annexed table shows the elevation of all the trees which could be conveniently measured, and their circumference at six feet above the ground:

table of measurements of height and circumference of trees
in the calaveras grove.

Name of Tree.   Circumference 6 feet  
above ground.
    Height.    
Feet. Feet.
  Keystone State.......................... 45325
  General Jackson......................... 40319
  Mother of the Forest.......     (without bark) 61315
  Daniel Webster.......................... 47307
  Richard Cobden.......................... 41284
  T. Starr King............................. 52283
  Pride of the Forest........................ 48282
  Henry Clay.............................. 47280
  Bay State............................... 46275
  Jas. King of William...................... 51274
  Sentinel................................. 49272
  Dr. Kane................................ 50271
  Arborvitae Queen......................... 30269
  Abraham Lincoln........................ 44268
  Maid of Honor........................... 27266
  Old Vermont............................. 40265
  Uncle Sam............................... 43265
  Mother & Son (Mother).................. 51261
  Three Graces (highest)................... 30262
  Wm. Cullen Bryant...................... 48262
  U. S. Grant.............................. 34261
  General Scott............................ 43258
  George Washington...................... 51256
  Henry Ward Beecher..................... 34252
  California................................ 33250
  Uncle Tom’s Cabin....................... 50250
  Beauty of the Forest...................... 39249
  J. B. M’Pherson........................... 31246
  Florence Nightingale..................... 37246
  James Wadsworth....................... 27239
  Elihu Burritt............................. 31231

The exact measurement of the diameter and the ascertaining of the age of one of the trees in this grove was made possible by the cutting down of one of the largest of them. This was done soon after the grove was discovered, and is said to have occupied five men for twenty-two days. The felling was done by boring through the tree with pump augers; it was no small affair to persuade the trunk to fall, even after it had been completely severed from its connection with the base. It was done, however, by driving in wedges on one side, until the ponderous mass was inclined sufficiently, which was not effected until after three days of labor.

The stump of this tree was squared nicely off at six feet above the ground, and the bark being removed, a pavilion was built over it, forming a capacious room, the exact dimensions of the stump inside of the bark being,

Across its longest diameter, south of centre, 13 feet inches.
        “            “            ” north of centre, 10 " 4 "
Total longest diameter 24 " "

The shorter diameter, or that east and west, was 23 feet, exactly evenly divided on each side of the centre. The thickness of the bark, averaging 18 inches probably, would add three feet to the diameter of the tree, making 27 feet in all. After this tree had been cut down, it was again cut through about 30 feet from the first cut. At the upper end of this section of the trunk, or about 40 feet from the ground, as the tree originally stood, we carefully counted the rings of annual growth, measuring at the same time the width of each set of one hundred, beginning at the exterior; the result was as follows:

First hundred ........................   3. inches.
Second " ........................   3.7 "
Third " ........................   4.1 "
Fourth " ........................   3.9 "
Fifth " ........................   4.1 "
Sixth " ........................   4.1 "
Seventh " ........................   4.6 "
Eighth " ........................   5.6 "
Ninth " ........................   7.3 "
Tenth " ........................   7.9 "
Eleventh " ........................ 10.1 "
Twelfth " ........................ 13.0 "
55 years ........................   9.4 "
_______________ ____
1,255 years. 80.8 "

There was a small cavity in the centre of the tree which prevented an accurate fixing of its age; but making due allowance for that, and for the time required to grow to the height at which the count was made, it will be safe to say that this particular tree, which was probably about as large as any now standing in the grove, was, in round numbers, 1,300 years old.

The Calaveras Grove contains, as will be seen in the table above, four trees over 300 feet high, the highest one measured by us in the Mariposa Grove being 272. The published statements of the heights of these trees are considerably exaggerated, as will be noticed; but our measurements can be relied on as being correct.* [*Several trees were measured twice, and the results, in every case, found to be closely coincident.] The Keystone State has the honor of standing at the head, with 325 feet as its elevation, and this is the tallest tree yet measured on this continent, so far as our information goes. When we observe how regularly and gradually the trees diminish in size, from the highest down, it will be evident that the stories told, of trees having once stood in this grove over 400 feet in height, are not entitled to credence. It is not at all likely that any one tree should have overtopped all the others by 75 feet or more. The same condition of general average elevation, and absence of trees very much taller than any of the rest in the grove, will be noticed among the trees on the Mariposa grant, where, however, there is no one as high as 300 feet.

The next grove south of the one just noticed is south of the Stanislaus River, near the borders of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. It has never been visited by any member of the Geological Survey, and is not located on any map. It has been described to us as being about ten miles southeast of the Calaveras Grove, on Beaver Creek, a branch of the Stanislaus. It is said to contain from 600 to 800 trees, but none as large as those already described.

About twenty-five miles southeast of the last-mentioned grove is another, which may be called the Crane Flat Grove, as it is from a mile to a mile and a half from the station of that name on the Coulterville trail to the Yosemite, in a northwesterly direction. It was visited by our party, in haste, and its extent was not ascertained nor the number of trees counted. They stand mostly on the north slope of a hill, rather sheltered from the wind; and, so far as observed, are rather smaller than those of the Calaveras Grove. The largest sound tree measured was 57 feet in circumference, at three feet from the ground. A stump, so burned that only one-half remained, was 23 feet in diameter, inside the bark at three feet from the ground. A single Big Tree stands in the woods, by itself, somewhere southwest of the Crane Flat Grove, and between it and the Merced. It is the only instance, so far as we know, of the occurrence of this species thus solitary and alone. There is an almost entirely unexplored region between the Beaver Creek and the Crane Flat Groves, and there may possibly be some more Big Trees existing there and not yet discovered. It is about twenty miles, still in a southwesterly direction, from Crane Flat to the Mariposa Grove, and that region has been so thoroughly explored by the Survey, that there is no reason to suppose that any more of these trees will be found there.

The Mariposa Grove is situated about sixteen miles directly south of the Lower Hotel in the Yosemite Valley, and between three and four miles southeast of Clark’s ranch, and at an elevation of about 1,500 feet above the last-named place, or of 5,500 feet above the sea-level. It lies in a little valley, occupying a depression along the back of a ridge, which runs along in an easterly direction between Big Creek and the South Merced. One of the branches of the creek heads in the grove.

The grant made by Congress is two miles square, and embraces, in reality, two distinct, or nearly distinct groves; that is to say, two collections of Big Trees, between which there is an intervening space without any. The Upper Grove is in a pretty compact body, containing, on an area of 3,700 by 2,300 feet in dimensions, just 365 trees of the Sequoia gigantea, of a diameter of one foot and over, besides a great number of small ones. The lower grove, which is smaller in size and more scattered, lies in a southwesterly direction from the other, some trees growing quite high up in the gulches on the south side of the ridge which separates the two groves.

The trail approaches the Upper Grove from the west side, and passes through and around it, in such a manner as to take the visitor very near to almost all the largest trees; to accomplish this, it ascends one branch of the Creek and then crosses over and descends the other, showing that the size of the trees depends somewhat on their position in regard to water. Still, there are several very large ones on the side hill south of the creek, quite high above the water.

Several of the trees in this grove have been named, some of them, indeed, half a dozen times; there are no names, however, which seem to have become current, as is the case in the Calaveras Grove. A plan has been drawn for the Commissioners, however, showing each tree, with its exact position and size, a number being attached to each. The circumference of every tree in the grove was also carefully measured, and the height of such as could be conveniently got at for this purpose.

There are about 125 trees over 40 feet in circumference. The annexed table gives the height of all that were measured, and the circumference of these and of several other of the largest trees in the grove, with some remarks as to their condition and appearance:

table of measurements of height and circumference of trees
in the mariposa grove.

    No.       Height.     Circumference  
at
Ground.
Circumference
  at six feet above the  
Ground.
Remarks.
6   77.5    
7   72.5    
11   62.    
12 244 62. ....   Very fine symmetrical tree.
15 272 .... ....   Fine sound tree.
16 .... 86.5 ....   31 feet in diameter. Hollow.
20 .... 72.5 55.   Fine tree.
21 .... .... 44.   Very fine tree, not swollen at base.
27 250 48.    
29 .... 89.8    
31 186 35.7 29.6   Very straight and symmetrical.
35 .... 65. 50.8  
38 226 27.    
49 194      
51 218 56. 39.   Very fine tree.
52 249 .... 40.   Fine tree.
60 .... 81.6 59.   Very fine tree, but burned at base.
64 .... 82.4 50.   Very fine tree.
66 221 39.8    
69 219 35.7    
70 225 43.9    
77 197 .... 27.8  
102 255 .... 50.   Very fine tree.
158 223      
164 243 .... 27.6  
169 .... 79.6 ....   Much burned at base.
171 .... 82.7 ....   Badly burned on one side.
174 268 .... 40.8  
194 192 .... 46.   Two trees, united at the base.
205 229 87.8 ....   Much burned on one side, formerly over
  100 feet in circumference.
206 235 70.4    
216 .... .... 63.2   Very large tree, much burned at base.
226 219 .... 48.   Fine tree.
236 256 .... 46.  
238 .... .... 57.   26 feet in diameter, burned on one side.
239 187 .... 26.6  
245 270 81.6 67.2   Burned on one side.
253 .... 74.3 60.  
262 .... 56. ....   Half burned away at base.
275 .... 68.    
286 .... 76. ....   Burned on one side nearly to centre.
290 .... .... 46.  
301 .... .... 51.  
304 260 92.7 ....   Largest tree in the Grove, 27 feet in diame
  ter, but all burned away on one side.
330 .... 91.6 ....   Splendid tree, over 100 feet in circum
  ference originally; but much burned
  at base.
348 227 .... 51.  

From the above table it will be seen, that there are several trees in this grove larger than any in the Calaveras, and that their average size is greater. The average height of the Mariposa trees, however, is less than that of the Calaveras; and the highest of the former, 272 feet, is 53 feet less than the tallest one of the latter. There is a burned stump on the north side of the grove, nearly all gone, but indicating a tree of a size perhaps a little greater than any now existing here. The beauty of the Mariposa Grove has been sadly marred by the ravages of fire, which has evidently swept through it again and again, almost ruining many of the finest trees. Still, the general appearance of the grove is extremely grand and imposing.

The principal trees associated with the Big Trees in this grove are: the pitch and sugar pines, the Douglas spruce, the white fir (Picea grandis), and the bastard cedar (Libocedrus decurrens); the latter so much resembles the Big Tree in the general appearance of its trunk and bark, that there was no person in our party who could certainly distinguish the two species at a little distance.

There are but very few of the young Big Trees growing within the grove, where probably they have been destroyed by fire; around the base of several of the large trees, on the outskirts of the grove, there are small plantations of young Sequoias, of all sizes, up to six or eight inches in diameter, but only a few as large as this. Those trees which are about ten feet in diameter and entirely uninjured by fire, in the full symmetry of a vigorous growth of say 500 years, are, although not as stupendous as the older giants of the forest, still exceedingly beautiful and impressive.

The meadows on the Big Tree Grant abound in gay, blooming flowers. Mr. Bolander enumerates, as the most conspicuous: Rudbeckia Californica, Gray; Aconitum nasutum, Fischer; Anisocarpus Bolanderi, Gray; Boykinia occidentalis, T. and G.; Sidalcea malvaeflora, Gray; Myrica Gale, L.; Hulsia brevifolia, Gray; Epilobium angustifolium; Veratrum Californicum. A species of lupine is very abundant, and this, with the Rudbeckia, gives the main coloring to the meadows, which also abound with numerous carices.

The southern division of the Mariposa Grove, or Lower Grove, as it is usually called, is said to contain about half as many trees as the one just described. They are much scattered among other trees, and do not, therefore, present as imposing an appearance as those in the other grove, where quite a large number can often be seen from one point. The largest tree in the Lower Grove is the one known as the “Grizzly Giant,” of which two photographs are here given, (Nos. 23 and 24), one showing the whole tree, the other the base, with Mr. Galen Clark, the Guardian of the Valley and Grove, standing, with his six feet two inches of well proportioned height, as a scale from which to estimate its dimensions.

The Grizzly Giant is 93 feet 7 inches in circumference at the ground, and 64 feet 3 inches at 11 feet above. Its two diameters at the base, as near as we could measure, were 30 and 31 feet. The calculated diameter, at 11 feet above the ground is 20 feet nearly. The tree is very much injured and decreased in size by burning, for which no allowance has been made in the above measurements. Some of the branches of this tree are fully six feet in diameter, or as large as the trunks of the largest elms of the Connecticut Valley, of which Dr. Holmes has so pleasantly discoursed in the Atlantic Monthly. This tree, however, has long since passed its prime, and has the battered and war-worn appearance, conveyed by its name.

The next grove south of the Mariposa is one in Fresno County, about fourteen miles southeast of Clark’s, and not far from a conspicuous point called Wammelo Rock. Mr. Clark has described this grove, which we have not visited, as extending for above two and a half miles in length, by from one to two in breadth. He has counted 500 trees in it, and believes the whole number to be not far from 600. The largest measured 81 feet in circumference, at three feet from the ground.

No other grove of Big Trees has been discovered to the southeast of this, along the slope of the Sierra, until we reach a point more than fifty miles distant from the Fresno Grove. Here, between the King’s and Kaweah Rivers, is by far the most extensive collection of trees of this species which has yet been discovered in the State.

This belt of trees, for grove it can hardly be called, occurs about thirty miles north-northeast of Visalia, on the tributaries of the King’s and Kaweah Rivers, and on the divide between. They are scattered over the slopes and on the valleys; but are larger in the depressions, where the soil is more moist. Along the trail which runs from Visalia to the Big Meadows, the belt is four or five miles wide, and it extends over a vertical range of about 2,500 feet; its total length is as much as eight or ten miles, and may be more. The trees are not collected together into groves; but are scattered through the forests, and associated with the other species usually occurring at this altitude in the Sierra; they are most abundant at from 6,000 to 7,000 feet elevation above the sea-level. Their number is great; probably thousands might be counted. Their size, however, is not great, the average being from ten to twelve feet in diameter, and but few exceeding twenty feet; but smaller trees are very numerous. One tree, which had been cut, had a diameter of eight feet, exclusive of the bark, and was 377 years old. The largest one seen was near Thomas’s Mill; this had a circumference of 106 feet near the ground, no allowance being made for a portion which was burned away at the base. When entire, the tree may have been ten or twelve feet more in circumference. At about twelve feet from the ground, the circumference was 75 feet. Its height was 276 feet. The top was dead, however, and, although the tree was symmetrical and in good growth, it had past its prime.

Another tree, which had fallen, and had been burned hollow, was so large, that three horsemen could ride abreast into the cavity for a distance of thirty feet, its height and width being about eleven feet. At a distance of seventy feet the diameter of the cavity was still as much as eight feet. The base of this tree could not be easily measured; but the trunk was burned through at 120 feet from the ground, and at that point had a diameter (exclusive of the bark) of 13 feet 2 inches; and, at 169 feet from its base, the tree was nine feet in diameter. The Indians stated that a still larger tree existed to the north of King’s River.

All through these forests there are numerous young Big Trees, of all sizes from the seedling upwards. Prostrate trunks of old trees are also numerous; some of them must have lain for ages, as they were nearly gone, while the wood is very durable.

The only other groves yet discovered are those on the Tule River, of which there are two, one on the north and the other on the south branch of that stream. They are fifteen miles apart, and the most northerly of the two is about thirty miles from the grove last described. As the intervening region has been but little explored, it is not at all unlikely that more of the Big Trees may be found along the fork of the Kaweah which intersects this region with its numerous branches. We are not aware that these two Tule groves were known previous to their discovery by Mr. D’Heureuse, one of the topographers of the Geological Survey, in 1867; at least, no notice of them had ever appeared in print. The number of trees in these groves is quite large, as they are scattered over several square miles of area. The largest of them were said by Mr. D’Heureuse to be about the size of the largest in the other groves.

Not one of the Big Trees has ever been found south of the grove on the South Fork of the Tule. The region has not, however, been so thoroughly explored that it would be safe to say that none exist there. Judging from the extent of the area over which this species is scattered, between King’s and Kaweah Rivers, it would seem that here was its most congenial habitat, and it may eventually be found that this tree forms pretty nearly a continuous belt, for some fifty or sixty miles.

From what has been stated above, the reader will easily gather, that the Big Tree is not that wonderfully exceptional thing which popular writers have almost always described it as being. It is not so restricted in its range as some other species of the coniferae in California; it occurs in great abundance of all ages and sizes, and there is no reason to suppose that it is now dying out, or that it belongs to a past geological era, any more than the redwood. The age of the Big Trees is not so great as that assigned, by the highest authorities, to some of the English yews. Neither is its height as great, by far, as that of the Australian species, the Eucalyptus amygdalina, many of which have, on the authority of Dr. Müller, the eminent Government Botanist, been found to measure over 400 feet. One, indeed, reaches the enormous elevation of 480 feet, thus overtopping the tallest Sequoia by 155 feet. There are also trees which exceed the Big Trees in diameter; as, for instance, the Baobab (Adansonia digitata), but these are always comparatively low, not exceeding 60 or 70 feet in height, and much swollen at the base.

On the whole, it may be stated, that there is no known tree which approaches the Sequoia in grandeur, thickness and height being both taken into consideration, unless it be the Eucalyptus. The largest Australian tree yet reported is said to be 81 feet in circumference, at four feet from the ground; this is nearly, but not quite, as large as some of the largest of the Big Trees of California.


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