The Journey of the Giant Sequoia

July 30, 2015

Giant Sequoia

The Journey of the Giant Sequoia

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Passersby strolling along Hemlock Hill Road are struck by the amazing view of the conifer collection, sprawling above the open glade known as Kent Field, across from Bussey Brook. Among the pines, spruces, and firs is one of the Arboretum’s finest specimens of giant sequoia or redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum). This native of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains is celebrated, among other reasons, as being the world’s largest tree. We at the Arboretum celebrate it, too.

Accession 1320-72*A has an interesting story that actually began in 1948. That was the year Chandler Hovey, Sr. collected a half-dozen seedlings from California and brought them back to his home in Chestnut Hill, MA, not far from the Boston College campus. He donated one of those seedlings to the Arboretum in 1949, but unfortunately it perished in 1963. Mr. Hovey still wanted the Arboretum to have one of these magnificent trees, and bequeathed one growing on his property, to be given to the Arboretum as a gift during its centennial year of 1972. Although Boston College had already purchased the Hovey Property by that time, the Arboretum was given access to the special, 42-foot tall donation. In 1972, the firm of Frost & Higgins, experts at transplanting and transporting large trees, dug the massive specimen by hand, and drum-laced the root ball before loading it onto a special flatbed for transport.

After navigating the city streets, the tree eventually arrived at its planting location in the conifers, a perennially moist spot adjacent a nearby spring. Some 43 years later, this tree has established in the landscape, yet not without trial and tribulation. Like many large trees when transplanted, this one suffered some transplant shock. The most obvious symptom was the loss of its central leader at the top, transforming its original wedge-shaped form to a rounded one. However, by the middle of the 1990s, the hints of a new leader began to appear, rising out and above the mound of green. Now almost twice as tall (it presently stands 78 feet in height), the tree has a peculiar shape, with its upright and narrow top perched upon the rounded form. Will the tree have fully regained its natural form by the time the Arboretum celebrates its sesquicentennial 2022?

Michael Dosmann, Curator of Living Collections

NOTE: A Tree Mob™ was held on July 23, 2015 celebrating this giant sequoia [1320-72*A]. Manager of Horticulture Andrew Gapinski joined Michael that evening and spoke to the group about the history of the tree and the challenges it still faces in a changing climate. We in the library were particularly intrigued by the archival photographs of the tree movers, which can now be viewed in the above gallery of images. More recent views of the giant sequoia include photography by Arnold Arboretum Director William (Ned) Friedman and some footage I recently shot which includes the developing leader at the tree’s peak. We also keep a collection specific to Sequoiadendron giganteum in the archive.
Larissa Glasser, Library Assistant

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