California location map
In thirty years a tree has been known to grow to a height of 8o ft. and a diameter of 16 in. The wood contains no pitch and much water, and in a green condition will not burn. To this fact it owes its immunity from the forest fires which wreak frightful havoc among the surrounding forests. As the redwood is limited to the Coast Range, so the big tree is limited wholly to the Sierra Nevada. Unlike the redwood the big tree occurs in scattered groves (ten in all) among other species. Its habitat extends some 200 in., from latitude 36° to 39°, nowhere descending much below an altitude of 5000 ft., nor rising above 8000 ft. The most northerly grove and the nearest to San Francisco is the Calaveras Grove near Stockton; the Mariposa Grove just south of the Yosemite National Park, is a state reservation and easily accessible to tourists. The noblest groves are near Visalia, and are held as a national park. The average height is about 275 ft., and the diameter near the ground 20 ft.; various individuals stand over 300 ft., and 'a diameter of 25 ft. is not rare. One tree measures 35.7 ft. inside the bark 4 ft. above the ground, ro ft. at 200 ft. above the ground, and is 325 ft. tall. Specimens have been cut down that were estimated to be 1300 and even 2200 years old; many trees standing are presumably 2500 years old. It is the opinion of John Muir that the big tree would normally live 5000 years or more; that the California groves are still in their prime; that, contrary to general ideas, the big tree was never more widely distributed than now, at least not within the past 8000. or ro,000 years; that it is not a decaying species, but that on the contrary no tree of all the forest is more enduringly established in con-cord with climate and soil," growing like the mountain pine even on granite, and in little danger save from the greed of the lumber-man; but other excellent authorities consider it as hardly holding its own, especially in the north. Three main wood belts cover the flanks of the Sierra: the lower or main pine belt, the silver fir belt, and the upper pine belt. The sugar pine, the yellow or silver pine and the Douglas spruce (considerably smaller than in Oregon and Washington), are rivals in stature and nobility, all attaining Zoo ft. or more when full grown; and the incense cedar reaches a height of ISO ft. In this belt and the following one of firs the big tree also grows. The white silver fir (abies concolor) and the silver or red fir (ab. magnifica), standing 200 to 250 ft., make up almost wholly the main forest belt from 5000 to 9000 ft. for some 450 M. Above the firs come the tamarack, constituting the bulk of the lower Alpine forest; the hardy long-lived mountain pine; the red cedar or juniper, growing even on the baldest rocks; the beautiful hemlock spruce; the still higher white pine, nut pine, needle pine; and finally, at 'o,000 to 12,000 ft., the dwarf pine, which grows in a tangle on the earth over which one walks, and may not show for a century's growth more than a foot of height or an inch of girth. The Nevada slope of the mountains below 7 500 ft. is covered with the nut pine down to the sage plains. Its nuts are gathered in enormous amounts by the Indians for food; and it is estimated that the yearly harvest of these nuts exceeds in bulk that of all the cereals of California (John Muir). On the Sierra the underbrush is characterized by the pungent manzanita, the California buckeye and the chamiso; the last two growing equally abundantly on the Coast Range. The chamiso and the manzanita, with a variety of shrubby oaks and thorny plants, often grow together in a dense and sometimes quite impenetrable undergrowth, forming what is known as " chaparral "; if the chamiso occurs alone the thicket is a " chamisal." The elm, the hickory, the beech, the chestnut, and many others of the most characteristic and useful trees of the eastern states were originally entirely wanting in California. Oaks are abundant; they are especially characteristic of the Great Valley, where they grow in magnificent groves. Up to 1910 national forest reserves amounted to 27,968,510 acres. In 1909 Congress created a national forest to include the big tree groves in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. One of the noblest redwood areas (that of Santa Cruz county) is a state reservation (created in 19o1). Even within reservations almost all the merchantable timber is owned by private individuals. In addition to native trees many others especially ornamental species—have been succgssfully introduced from various parts of the world. Soil.—Sand and looms in great variety, grading from mere sand to adobe, make up the soils of the state. The plains of the north-east counties are volcanic, and those of the south-eastsandy. It is impossible to say with accuracy what part of the state may properly be classed as tillable. The total farm acreage in 'goo was 28,828,951 acres, of which 41.5 % were improved; since 188o the absolute amount of improved land has remained practically constant, despite the extraordinary progress of the state in these years.