A Living Fossil

Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)

Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) trunk

I could not beleive it when I discovered this amazing tree growing in a corner of my local park some years ago. It stands tall and proud above all the other trees, and I was so excited about its discoverey I even emailed my local newspaper to tell them all about it. In hindsight it was a crazy thing to do, and I did not get a reply, needless to say. It grows in the grounds of an old house, which has become incorporated into the park, and where the owners of years gone by must have been avid collectors of exotic trees.

Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)

Also called the ‘Wellingtonia’ or ‘Giant Redwood’, it is a gigantic evergreen tree and is the planet’s largest tree by volume, and is the tallest tree now growing in Britain. This is a massive tree and can have a girth of up to 8m (26ft). It forms a huge tapering bole with a base flare, with red, deep-fluted bark. The leaves are like green twisted cord, and smell of aniseed when crushed. The small yellow male cones are sometimes abundant at the tips of shoots. The female cones are solitary, sometimes paired, and are ovoid up to 8cm long and 5cm in diameter. It can grow up to 80m (262ft) tall.

Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)

Planted as an ornamental in parks and large gardens and estates. A native tree of the Sierra Nevada in California and which was discovered in 1852, it was introduced to Britain where it thrives best in the west.

Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) cone

A true living fossil, as these trees can live for up to and over 3,000 years of age, and are one of the planet’s longest living organisms.

Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) foliage

Some Giant Sequoia facts:

General Sherman: The largest living known Giant Sequoia is in the Sequoia National Park in California, and it is called General Sherman. It is in fact the largest tree by volume, which is 1,486.9 cubic metres (52,477 cubic feet). It is 83.3m (273ft) tall (the tallest is an unnamed tree at 95m (311ft)), and 31.3m (102ft) around its girth at ground level. It is believed to be between 2,300 – 2,700 years old. It has an estimated weight of 6,167 tons. Now that is one big old tree, and the largest known living single stem tree on the planet!

The Waterfall Tree: In Alder Greek Grove, a Giant Sequoia grove located in Giant Sequoia National Monument in California, grows a Giant Sequoia called the Waterfall Tree which holds the world record for the largest base circumference of 47m (154ft) and a diameter of 17m (55ft) of any other Giant Sequoia.

Photographs of Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) taken July and December 2012, local park, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012. Camera used Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38.

Lucombe Oak

Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’

Lucombe Oak – Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’

This was quite an unusual oak I came across, and which I had never seen before. It is a natural hybrid between the Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) and the Cork Oak (Quercus subur). Growing up to a height of 35m, this is a tall semi-evergreen tree with heavy branches on a relatively short bole. The bark can be variable, greyish or light, furrowed, smooth or corky. The leaves are long, glossy green, toothed and 4-7cm long. They are grey and finely felt-like beneath. They remain on the tree until spring (unless conditions are very harsh in winter when they may fall) before falling and then regrowing quickly. The acorns appear in autumn in small mossy cups and are 2.5cm long. There are several variants including back crosses which may add to confusion during identification of specimens in the field. These oaks can live for up to 240 years or more.

Lucombe Oak – Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’

Grown as an ornamental in parks and gardens, especially in and around Exeter. William Lucombe, a nurseryman from Exeter, Devon, discovered this hybrid between the Turkey Oak and the Cork Oak quite by chance in 1762. He noticed how the leaves remained on the tree throughout autumn and winter, and decided to grow it himself. It was named after his nursery, and is still common around parks and gardens in Exeter, especially near the coast. It may also be found elsewhere in mature parks and gardens in the south of England, less so further north. One of the original saplings (perhaps the first to be planted outside of Devon) was planted in Kew Gardens in 1763, which was later moved and replanted in 1846, and is still alive today.

Lucombe Oak – Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’

Both the Turkey Oak (a deciduous tree) and the Cork Oak (an evergreen tree) grow wild in south-western Europe where they freely crossbreed naturally. These hybrids are called ‘Spanish Oaks’ (Quercus x hispanica), and with the exception of harsh weather conditions, they keep their leaves throughout autumn and winter, up until the new growth appears in spring.

Lucombe Oak – Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’

William Lucombe was so taken with this oak that he later felled the original specimen in 1785 to provide wood for his own coffin. He kept the boards under his bed until he died. When he did die at the ripe old age of 102, it was discovered the wood had decayed and timber was used from one of his early graft propagations to craft his coffin instead.

Lucombe Oak – Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’

Photographs of Lucombe Oak (Quercus x hispanica) ‘Lucombeana’, taken September 2013, Warley Woods, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013. Camera used Nikon CoolPix P500.

Crocodile Lurking

Of course, there are no crocodiles in England. I can’t help myself sometimes, but my imagination sees forms within forms, and my mind just connects the dots and we have a dragon sailing across the sky, but of course there are no dragons in England, either. It was only a cloud formation, and this is how some of us see the world. It has been so for me since boyhood.

You may only see a rotting log, or may well see something else entirely, but I see a half buried crocodile, trying to free itself from the earth. Imagination is such a wonderful gift, and I wonder if we are the only species on earth who are possesed with this gift.