| Modern * New Forest |
Giant Sequoias tower over other lifeforms with all the grandeur of a global matriarch. They are the world's largest organism, the subject of songs, and the namesake of North American national parks. And yet despite being the symbol of American wilderness, something apart from the oaks and alders that dominate the British isles, there are a few sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) secretly growing, even germinating, in certain special sites. Two - with flaking red bark and long shadows - can be found in the heart of the New Forest.
The biggest Sequoia on Earth has been named General Sherman and stands in Sequoia National Park, California. 2,100 years old and 84m tall it makes babies of the New Forest specimens (both un-named) which reach only 51m and 47m. Still, in the oak-pine ecology of the old Royal Forest they are giants of nature, pillaring the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive and drawing the tourists towards them - all the benches in the surrounding area point towards Sequoias.
Sequoias are native to Southern California, where they enjoy the warm climate and forest ecologies, but in 1853 some of these Californian seeds travelled it to England with plant enthusiast William Lobb. Word about the 'big tree' spun through the English aristocracy and Lobb went on to sell thousands of saplings to rich land owners who wanted to cultivate the American wilderness in their English country estates.
The birth of the New Forest sequoia trees are somewhat mysterious. Although they were clearly planted as ornaments, most probably around 1860, there is little indication of who or why. We can only assume that the planter knew they would add a little bit of 'spectacular' to the forest.
There is still an ongoing argument in scientific circles about what to call these beautiful trees. Although US taxonomists wanted ‘Washingtonia’ in honour of the president, the Horticultural Society of London chose ‘Wellingtonia’ after the late Duke of Wellington. In the end *Sequoiadendron giganteum* was chosen as the Latin name… but many still use the other options and the battle continues...