In addition to the forest types already discussed, a number of other individual types and species found in the National Park System are of such great interest that they deserve special mention.
Sequoia.This ancient genus is represented by two species in Californiathe redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, along the coast, and the giant sequoia, Sequoia gigantea, in the Sierra Nevada. The latter species produces the largest trees in the world, while the redwood, of lesser maximum diameter, produces the tallest.
The redwood occurs in the fog belt along the northwest coast of California and extends a short distance into Oregon. This strip is approximately 450 miles in length and has an average width of 15 miles. The redwood is represented in the National Park System in only one areaMuir Woods National Monument, located at the foot of Mount Tamalpais and approximately 10 miles northwest of San Francisco. Fortunately, some of the finest of the redwood groves are preserved in the California State Park System. The redwood is our only coniferous species that has the habit of reproducing freely by stump sprouts.
The giant sequoia is found only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, in central California, at elevations of 4,000 to 8,000 feet. The groves are scattered through a narrow belt extending north and south for a distance of about 250 miles, within which lie Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. The General Sherman Tree, located in Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, is often referred to as the oldest and largest living thing. This specimen has a basal diameter of 30.7 feet and a height of 272.4 feet. Its age has been variously estimated at 3,000 to 3,500 years.
Standing in the midst of a sequoia grove with its tremendous tree columns like cathedral pillars reaching to the sky, the shafts of the sun's rays alternating with the shadows of the tree trunks, and stillness pervading the scene, one is reverently conscious of the presence of the Creator in the midst of His glorious handiwork.
Sugar Pine.Associated with the giant sequoias in the Sierras, and somewhat larger than the ponderosa pine in its maximum dimensions, is this white pine species. It is one of the finest and certainly the most picturesque of the pines, with its greatly elongated branches, from the ends of which the long cones hang. The appearance presented has been compared to the apostles with extended arms bestowing the benediction. The sugar pine attains a diameter of 10 feet at breast height (4-1/2 feet above the ground) and a height of 245 feet, and reaches an age of 500 years or more.
In addition to its association with the giant sequoia, the sugar pine extends through other portions of the forests in Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. It is found also in Lassen Volcanic National Park in mixture with ponderosa pine, white fir, and incense-cedar.
Olympic Rain Forest.Next to the sequoias, the rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula, in the State of Washington, is the most spectacular forest type represented in the National Park System. In this forest there is an association of Sitka spruce, western redcedar, western hemlock and Douglas-fir, all reaching large dimensions, with an understory of bigleaf maple, from whose branches hang draperies of green moss and lichen. The forest floor is lush and green with a carpet of oxalis, bunchberry dogwood, ferns and moss, and the whole ensemble, like the sequoia groves, reminds one of a glorious cathedral. The high rainfall of this sectionup to 140 inches a yearand the equable climate of the lowlands produce a luxurious verdure which many visitors compare with the tropics.
Saguaro.In strange contrast to the Olympic rain forest are the saguaro forests of Saguaro and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monuments in Arizonaleafless forests of massive columnal cacti spread over the undulating desert. The saguaro is the product of severe arid conditions under which the plants have survived by developing water storage organs and by reducing to a minimum the loss of moisture from their bodies. The stem of the saguaro is composed of a skeleton of 12 to 30 slender vertical ribs supporting a mass of spongy tissues. Following soaking rains, the root system of the cactus draws up immense quantities of water which are absorbed by the spongelike pulp. A mature plant, with a height up to 50 feet and weighing from 6 to 10 tons, may take up as much as a ton of water following a rain. During dry weather the saguaro gradually uses its stored water, shrinks in girth and weight, and develops a wrinkled appearance due to the drawing together of the vertical ribs. In spring the fluted columns of the saguaro are crowned with creamy white blooms which later produce brilliant scarlet fruits that are edible.