Giants in the wood – redwood 1206 in Sidmouth

The stump and trunk of the mammoth tree.

The stump and trunk of the mammoth tree. - Credit: Archant

A baby giant, redwood number 1206 in the garden of Knowle.

The Cherokee Sequoyah from a lithogrpah by Victorian lithogroahers Duval and Lehman

The Cherokee Sequoyah from a lithogrpah by Victorian lithogroahers Duval and Lehman - Credit: Archant

Continuing Sidmouth Arboretum’s series Tree Of The Month, we are focusing on the arboretum’s database tree 1206, a redwood in the gardens of Knowle, writes Ed Dolphin.

Redwood 1206, which is one of the largest trees in the gardens of Knowle, is a giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) but it is a baby really.

It is about 80-100 years old, 18m (59ft) tall and has a trunk circumference of 3.8m (13ft).

Elsewhere in the garden, redwood 1279 is slightly taller but not easily accessible. The eponymous tree in Redwood Road is even larger but it is in a private garden and only visible from the road.

Giant redwood at Knowle

Giant redwood at Knowle - Credit: Archant

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With ancestors dating back to the Jurassic period, there are three members of the Redwood family Sequoioideae alive today: giant redwoods, coastal redwoods and dawn redwoods.

There is a giant redwood in California, named General Sherman which is rated as the most massive tree alive. It is 84m (275ft) tall, with a trunk circumference of 31m (102ft), and an estimated age of 2,500 years. Its slimmer cousins the coastal redwoods can be even taller, one named Hyperion is the tallest living tree at 116m (380ft).

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Giant redwoods have thick, spongy bark which affords them protection from the forest fires that have such an effect on the Californian landscape.

Each tree carries both male and female cones. The tiny male cones produce their pollen in late spring. The pollinated female cones take 20 months to mature, but, as with the monterey pine, the cones may remain sealed with protective resin for 20 years, releasing their seeds after a brush fire clears the ground and melts the resin.

Arboretum chairman Jon Ball with giant redwood.

Arboretum chairman Jon Ball with giant redwood. - Credit: Archant

Giant redwoods are found in the Sierra Nevada uplands of California, where settlers first saw them in 1833. They became a tourist attraction, one was even cut down to have its stump used as a dance floor for a new tourist hotel. It is said that the felling of one of these giants sparked a reaction in the emerging environmental movement and led to the creation of the US National Park system.

John Matthew brought the first seeds back to Scotland in 1853 and his father Patrick Matthew managed to germinate some which he presented to friends.

William Lobb brought back a large consignment back to Exeter for Veitch’s Nurseries a few months later.

James Veitch had great success raising and selling these novelties to large estates all over the country. At 58m (193ft), the tallest UK giant redwood is one named Red Rob, which is in Longleat Forest.

A giant redwood.

A giant redwood. - Credit: Archant

There was some dispute on the choice of scientific name for the giant redwood. American scientists wanted to call it Washingtonia gigantea in honour of George Washington, but English scientists wanted to call it Wellingtonia giganteum in honour of the general and statesman who had died in 1852.

Eventually, it was decided to name the tree after a prominent Native American, the Cherokee called Sequoyah who devised the first written form of a Native American language.

The English name Wellingtonia still persists in common usage.

Hopefully, in years to come, your great, great, great grandchildren will be able to stand under 1206 and marvel at what has become a true giant.

Ed Dolphin is treasurer of Sidmouth Arboretum, visit the arboretum website to find out more about the trees of Sidmouth.

To read more features from East Devon Resident, click here.

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