Very absurd statements are made to visitors as to the antiquity of these trees, three or four thousand years being usually given as their age. This is founded on the fact that while many of the large Sequoias are greatly damaged by fire, the large pines and firs around them are quite uninjured. As many of these pines are assumed to be near a thousand years old, the epoch of the “great fire” is supposed to be earlier still, and as the Sequoias have not outgrown the fire-scars in all that time, they are supposed to have then arrived at their full growth. But the simple explanation of these trees alone having suffered so much from fire is, that their bark is unusually thick, dry, soft, and fibrous, and it thus catches fire more easily and burns more readily and for a longer time than that of the other coniferae. Forest fires occur continually, and the visible damage done to these trees has probably all occurred in the present century. Professor C.B. Bradley, of the University of California, has carefully counted the rings of annual growth on the stump of the “Pavilion tree,” and found them to be twelve hundred and forty; and after considering all that has been alleged as to the uncertainty of this mode of estimating the age of a tree, he believes that in the climate of California, in the zone of altitude where these trees grow, the seasons of growth and repose are so strongly marked that the number of annual rings gives an accurate result.
Other points that have been studied by Professor Bradley are, the reason why there are so few young trees in the groves, and what is the cause of the destruction of the old trees. To take the last point first, these noble trees seem to be singularly free from disease or from decay due to old age. All the trees that have been cut down are solid to the heart, and none of the standing trees show any indications of natural decay. The only apparent cause for their overthrow is the wind, and by noting the direction of a large number of fallen trees it is found that the great majority of them lie more or less towards the south. This is not the direction of the prevalent winds, but many of the tallest trees lean towards the south, owing to the increased growth of their topmost branches towards the sun. They are then acted upon by violent gales, which loosen their roots, and whatever the direction of the wind that finally overthrows them, they fall in the direction of the over-balancing top weight. The young trees grow spiry and perfectly upright, but as soon as they overtop the surrounding trees and get the full influence of the sun and wind, the highest branches grow out laterally, killing those beneath their shade, and thus a dome-shaped top is produced. Taking into consideration the health and vigor of the largest trees, it seems probable that, under favorable conditions of shelter from violent winds, and from a number of trees around them of nearly equal height, big trees might be produced far surpassing in height and bulk any that have yet been discovered. It is to be hoped that if any such are found to exist in the extensive groves of these trees to the south of those which are alone accessible to tourists, the Californian Government will take steps to reserve a considerable tract containing them, for the instruction and delight of future generations.