Children

Cathedral of trees

GREEN CANOPY: Touching the sky.

GREEN CANOPY: Touching the sky.  

As old as the hills and nearly as high, these mammoth trees form the Sequoia National Park in California, the U.S. These trees do not die, but simply crash from their tremendous height.

They should have kept their mouths shut. In the middle of the last century, fur hunters saw the mammoth conifers on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. When stories were related around the fire, they could not but help narrate the amazing sight — conifers in California, with trunks as thick as an elephant. When the lumberjacks heard of this, they rushed to the Sierra Nevada, to chop down the trees, the largest and the oldest plant on Earth.

Botanists called these trees Seqoiadendron giganteum and they belong to the morass Cypress. One can see trees that are 2,500 to 4,000 years old with a few thousand years more of life in them. These trees don’t die of old age. They come crashing down or die when their roots cannot support the 100 ton heavy trunks.

This area is now the Sequoia National Park. It was home to the Monachee tribe. These native Americans lived in the Kaweah River drainage in the foothills of the park. In summer, they would travel over the high mountain passes to trade with tribes in the East. Even today, there are sites and markings — like the Hospital Rock and Potwisha, that tell their story.

By the time the first European settlers arrived, smallpox had already taken its toll among the native Americans. The first European settler to build a home here was Hale Tharp.

He built his home out of a hollowed out fallen giant sequoia log. He allowed his cattle to graze in the meadow. He respected the grandeur of the forest and fought to ensure that it was safe from logging. Tharp’s cabin can still be seen here.

In the 1880s, white settlers arrived here in the hope of creating an utopian society. They founded the Kaweah Colony and hoped to trade in Sequoia timber. But, their plans did not meet with success because these giant Sequoia trees were not sturdy and instead splintered easily.

In 1890, the National Park Service incorporated the Giant Forest into Sequoia National Park. Since then, all logging operations have ceased. The park has expanded several times over the decades.

The forest is propagated by the long horned beetle and the Douglas squirrel. There are hiking trails aplenty around the park and most of them take around two hours. The park seems to be trapped in time, unchanged and as first described by the fur trappers as “high as church steeples and as thick as elephants”.

The name Sequoia for the tree comes from the Cherokee chief, Chief Sequoyah who drafted the Cherokee alphabet. One unusually large tree is named General Sherman, after William Tecumseh Sherman, the American soldier, businessman, educator and author, who served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Did you know

TUNNEL TREE: Still in use.

TUNNEL TREE: Still in use.   | Photo Credit: MAIL PIC

* The “largest living thing” sequoia is 2500-3000 years old. It is 83.8 metres high. The diameter of the trunk at the bottom is 31.3 metres.The diameter is 11.1 metres. The volume of the tree trunk is 1486 cubic metres and the height is approximately thought to be 1256 tonnes.

* Trees have been named after famous politicians and generals. In the Kings Canyon Park, a tree is named after a southern general, General Grant. It is 81.5 metres high and the base of the trunk is 32.8 metres.

*The Giant Grizzly is found in the Yosemite National Park. It is 2,700 years old and is 64 metres high. The “Tunnel Tree” is also found here. This tree fell in 1968. A huge tunnel was drilled through the trunk, big enough to allow a stagecoach to ride through it.

*This forest reservation is to be revered as it is a cathedral of trees indeed.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 10:02:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/cathedral-of-trees/article25733962.ece

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