One of the saddest pieces of news this week, to my mind, was the story of the Pioneer Cabin Tree at the Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California. The tree, which had a ‘drive-thru’ hole carved in its trunk in the 1880s, blew down last weekend in heavy storms that swept across the north of the state.
|The Pioneer Cabin tree, which shattered on impact.|
I’ve always been fascinated by giant sequoia trees, and one of the highlights of an early visit to America was going to the Sequoia National Park to gaze dumbfounded at the General Sherman tree. At the time that tree was reckoned to be the largest by volume, measuring 275 feet tall and over 100 feet in circumference at the base. The first major branch was 150 feet up, and although it looked insubstantial from ground level, the branch was reckoned to be more than six feet in diameter.
|The General Sherman tree|
But the most mind-blowing thing of all was the fact that the General Sherman tree was estimated to be somewhere between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. That’s a staggering age for any living thing on the planet.
It boggles the mind that this tree put its first shoots above the soil when the Greek Empire was in its heyday and the Roman Empire wasn’t even a twinkle in anybody’s eye.
It has seen the foundation of Buddhism and Christianity, the reign of Alexander the Great, the construction and abandonment of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, and the importance of a city called Mecca,
It has seen Boudicca, Charlemagne, the Crusades, Attila the Hun, the Viking invasion, King Henry VIII and his wives, the Reformation and the Renaissance, Edison and Einstein, and Marie Curie.
It has seen plagues, revolutions in France and Russia, World Wars, and pandemics, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, droughts, fire, famine and volcanic eruptions.
It has seen the best and the worst that man can do to the planet, nuclear weapons, and pollution and acid rain. It’s seen man develop the motor car, powered flight, break the sound barrier and visit the moon.
And it has survived.
Not so the poor Pioneer Cabin Tree, a youngster by comparison at a mere 2000 years old and with a diameter of around 22 feet. The drive-thru section was an enlargement of an earlier fire scar, and was large enough for cars to drive through the trunk at one point, although in recent years it had been limited to pedestrians. It is not the only hollowed-out sequoia, though. There are various others, some on private land like the Tour-Thru Tree in Klamath, CA.
|The Tour-Thru tree in Klamath, CA|
Sequoias are not the largest trees on the planet – that honour belongs to the Hyperion tree, a coast redwood, which stands at a little under 380 feet and is estimated at around 700-800 years old.
Nor is the giant sequoia the widest living tree – the claim of being the stoutest tree is grabbed by the Glencoe Baobab tree, with a trunk that measured 52 feet in diameter and grows in South Africa, and also the cypress tree.
|Baobab tree in Africa|
|Adansonia (Baobab) trees in Africa, a surreal sight|
The oldest tree is a Great Basin bristlecone pine, to be found in the White Mountains of California, and which is over 5,000 years old. Prometheus, another Great Basin bristlecone pine in Nevada, dated at 4,844 years old, was cut down in 1964 by researchers who did not realise its advanced age.
|Great Basin bristlecone pine trees|
It does make you wonder about the insignificance of man as a species. I can only hope that the trees leave more of a lasting impression on this planet than we do.
This week’s Word of the Week is teterrimous, meaning extremely foul, ugly, or horrible, from the Latin teterrima, meaning most foul.