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Young Folks' Library: Wonders of Earth, Sea and Sky

The Big Trees Of California
(From Studies Scientific and Social.)
By
ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE.
In the popular accounts of these trees it is usual to dwell only on the dimensions of the
very largest known specimens, and sometimes even to exaggerate these. Even the smaller
full-grown trees, however, are of grand dimensions, varying from fourteen to eighteen
feet in diameter, at six feet above the ground, and keeping nearly the same thickness for
perhaps a hundred feet. In the south Calaveras grove, where there are more than a
thousand trees, the exquisite beauty of the trunks is well displayed by the numerous
specimens in perfect health and vigor. The bark of these trees, seen at a little distance, is
of a bright orange brown tint, delicately mottled with darker shades, and with a curious
silky or plush-like gloss, which gives them a richness of color far beyond that of any
other conifer. The tree which was cut down soon after the first discovery of the species,
the [pg 120] stump of which is now covered with a pavilion, is twenty-five feet in diameter at six
feet above the ground, but this is without the thick bark, which would bring it to twenty-
seven feet when alive. A considerable portion of this tree still lies where it fell, and at one
hundred and thirty feet from the base I found it to be still twelve and a half feet in
diameter (or fourteen feet with the bark), while at the extremity of the last piece
remaining, two hundred and fifteen feet from its base, it is six feet in diameter, or at least
seven feet with the bark. The height of this tree when it was cut down is not recorded, but
as one of the living trees is more than three hundred and sixty feet high, it is probable that
this giant was not much short of four hundred feet.
In the accompanying picture the dead tree in the centre is that from which the bark was
stripped, which was erected in the Crystal Palace and unfortunately destroyed by fire. It is
called the "Mother of the [pg
The huge decayed trunk called "Father of the Forest," which has fallen perhaps a century
or more, exhibits the grandest dimensions of any known tree. By measuring its remains,
and allowing for the probable thickness of the bark, it seems to have been about thirty-
five feet diameter near the ground, at ninety feet up fifteen feet, and even at a height of
two hundred and seventy feet, it was nine feet in diameter. It is within the hollow trunk of
this tree that a man on horse-back can ride—both man and horse being rather small; but
the dimensions undoubtedly show that it was considerably larger than the "Pavilion tree,"
and that it carried its huge dimensions to a greater altitude; and although this does not
prove it to have been much taller, yet it was in all probability more than four hundred feet
in height.
Very absurd statements are made to visitors as to the antiquity of these trees, three or four
thousand years being usually given as their age. This is founded on the fact that while
many of the large Sequoias are greatly damaged by fire, the large pines and firs around
them are quite uninjured. As many of these pines are assumed to be near a thousand years
old, the epoch of the "great fire" is supposed to be earlier still, and as the Sequoias have
not outgrown the fire-scars in all that time, they are supposed to have then arrived at their
full growth. But the simple explanation of these trees alone having suffered so much from
fire is, that their bark is unusually thick, dry, soft, and fibrous, [pg 122] and it thus catches fire
more easily and burns more readily and for a longer time than that of the other coniferæ.
Forest." The two trees nearer the foreground are healthy,
medium-sized trees, about fifteen feet diameter at six feet above the ground.
121]
 
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