The Redwoods of Coast and Sierra
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SOME CONFUSION has arisen with respect to the common names of the two living species of Redwoods. Even the scientific names of the two species have been changed one or more times. This confusion has come about because the Redwood which grows along the coast has been called "Redwood," and the Redwood which grows in the mountains has been called "Big Tree." Both species of trees are REDWOOD, the same as two pines are both Pines, though one may be called Digger Pine and the other may be known as Sugar Pine. The species are quite distinct in their distribution, however, and it seems likely that the names COAST REDWOOD and SIERRA REDWOOD would be less confusing; hence, these terms will be employed when reference is made to these species of Redwood. Authority and support for the use of these names may be found in Redwoods of the Past, by Dr. Ralph W. Chaney, paleobotanist, of the University of California. In the Journal of Forestry for November, 1935, in an article entitled "What Are the Largest Trees in the World?" by Harry D. Tiemann, of the Forest Products Laboratory, United States Forest Service, the Redwoods are referred to in the following terms: In height the outstanding species of living trees today are the redwoods (Sequoia gigantea and Sequoia sempervirens) . . . . In basal diameters the Sierra Redwoods or Big Trees are preëminent as a class." Previous to the appearance of both Dr. Chaney's pamphlet and Mr. Tiemann's article, Professor Emanuel Fritz, of the Department of Forestry of the University of California, used the term "Sierra Redwood" in a radio broadcast, referring to Sequoia gigantea.

Sequoia is the scientific, generic name which is applied to both the Coast Redwood and the Sierra Redwood. The theory which is generally accepted holds that the name "Sequoia" was given in tribute to a notable red man who spelled his name "Sequo-yah." Sequo-yah was an uneducated, non-English-speaking half-blood Cherokee Indian. He felt that his people might rise much higher in the scale of civilization if they could read and write, and he began a study of speech in order to help them. After long and patient study, he began a search for the unity of speech, and finally decided that "sound" was the key to the construction of a language. He was able to distinguish vowels and consonants in the spoken language of the Cherokee Indians, and in 1821 he completed an alphabet of eighty-six characters. With its help, a Cherokee Indian child could learn to read and write his native language in a very short time. It is said that shortly after the official acceptance of the alphabet by the Cherokees, every member of the tribe was able to read and write. A printing press was set up and the news of the day was printed in Cherokee in two newspapers. Cherokee laws and the Christian Gospels have also been printed in the Cherokee language.

Because Sequo-yah lived for a time in that part of Oklahoma which was then known as Indian Territory, he is claimed by Oklahoma as one of her distinguished citizens, and that state has placed a statue of Sequo-yah in the Statuary Hall of the National Capitol in Washington. Although each state of the Union is permitted to place the statues of its two greatest citizens in this hall, Oklahoma is represented by the statue of Sequo-yah alone.

Loyal Oklahomans are proud of the fact that the largest and most famous trees of the world bear the name of their state's most distinguished citizen.

A particular one of these trees has helped to perpetuate the memory of another famous Indian, whose name is familiar to New Englanders. On May 12, 1871, Ralph Waldo Emerson, then traveling in California, selected, at the request of Galen Clark, a Sequoia gigantea near Clark's ranch and wayside hotel, and named it "Samoset" in memory of the first Indian ally of the historic Plymouth colony.

The genus name having been accepted as Sequoia, the two species were next distinguished, the Redwood of the coast as Sequoia sempervirens, the Redwood of the mountains as Sequoia gigantea. The story of the naming of these species follows.


Sequoia sempervirens (Coast Redwood)

The species of Sequoia which grows along the coast has been variously named. The Spanish Californians called it "palo colorado," which means "red tree." After Menzies first saw it in 1792, it became known as Redwood, because of its beautifully colored pink or reddish heart wood. It has been called "Sequoia," "Coast Redwood," "California Redwood," and "Redwood." Throughout this book it will be referred to as Coast Redwood.

According to the California botanist, Dr. Jepson, specimens of the Coast Redwood were carried to England by Menzies in 1795, where they remained undescribed until 1823. In that year Aylmer Bourke Lambert, an English botanist, examined the specimens. Of all genera of conifers known to botanists at that time, this Pacific Coast tree was most like the genus Taxodium. (Taxodium is the generic name given to trees belonging to the Redwood Family which are native to the southeastern United States and to Mexico. These trees were known to botanists and had been named prior to the discovery of the Coast Redwood.) Lambert placed the new species in the genus Taxodium, and since it was "evergreen," he gave it the name Taxodium sempervirens. "Sempervirens" literally means "always living," and the marvelous vitality and resistance of this tree, as well as the fact that it is evergreen, make the name especially appropriate. Lambert gave this name to the new species in order to differentiate it from the species previously known as Taxodium distichum, or Bald Cypress, a deciduous cone-bearing tree.

In 1847, Stephen Endlicher, a German botanist, made a study of the conifers, and decided that the tree named by Lambert represented a genus distinct from Taxodium. He gave it the genus name Sequoia, but retained Lambert's species name. The species thus became Sequoia sempervirens.

Sequoia gigantea (Sierra Redwood)

The species of Sequoia which grows in the Sierra Nevada was first given the name "Mammoth Tree," by the English. It has been variously known as "Sequoia," "Giant Sequoia," and "Big Tree." The more recent name "Sierra Redwood" is more appropriate and less confusing. Throughout this book, it will be referred to as Sierra Redwood, the Redwood of the mountains.

Soon after the discovery of the Sierra Redwood of the Calaveras Grove in 1852, specimens were taken to England by William Lobb, an English botanical collector. His material was examined by John Lindley, botanist, who created for it a new genus which he called Wellingtonia, in honor of the Duke of Wellington, and a new species name, gigantea. He published the name "Wellingtonia gigantea" in 1853.

The first to recognize the new conifer as a genuine species of Sequoia was Joseph Decaisne, the French botanist, who transferred it to that genus and published it as "Sequoia gigantea" in 1854. It has also been known as "Sequoia washingtoniana," and is still so called by some members of the United States Forest Service. Outside of the Forest Service, the greater number of botanists now accept the name given by Decaisne—"Sequoia gigantea." The species name, gigantea, refers of course to the fact that these trees are of giant proportions.


The Redwoods of Coast and Sierra
©1940, University of California Press
shirley/sec3.htm — 02-Feb-2007