My Favourite Tree – Californian Redwood, by David Belcher, Guthrie-Smith Trust Board member
Guthrie-Smith Trust Board member, and photographer David Belcher tells us about one of his several favourite trees.I simply adore a plantation of Sequoia sempervirens. [Californian Redwoods]; their grand, tall, pyramidal, majestic appearance with descending branches and aroma provide me with an impressive perception.
In most cases, site specific and as long-term plantings, they produce clean barrelled boles with attractive thick reddish brown fibrous bark containing quality timber.
Quality timbers have multiple uses but for myself interior wall panelling and solid wooden doors constructed with clear heart grade provide a most desirable aromatic feature in a home or office complex.
Sequoia sempervirens plantings in large parklike gardens also provide a desirable backdrop that highlights spring flowering and autumn coloured deciduous trees.
The Californian, or Coast, Redwood hails as the common name would suggest, from the west coast of North America in a coastal strip from south western Oregon down to Monterey in California known as the “Fog Belt” where it enjoys deep soils and cool moist breezes from the Pacific Ocean. In their natural habitat, Coast Redwoods are seldom seen more than 40km from the sea, and as well as being known as the tallest living things in the world, they have been known to live for up to 2000 years.
While historically not successful as a plantation tree in New Zealand, no doubt due to being particularly site specific, with around 10,000 ha being planted from the late nineteenth century until the mid – 20th century, only about one percent ended being successful. In the last 20 years, interest has again turned to the Redwood, with new provenances being introduced and trialled. Once again these have been found to be site specific, and it will be interesting to follow the progress of some of the plantings. One such planting is situated at Tutira on our southern boundary, where various stocking rates are being compared. This block is known as the Christison Redwoods, named after our Curator George’s father Gary, a very generous benefactor to the Trust. It can be accessed through the New Zealand section.
While perhaps not successful as a plantation tree, Redwoods have thrived on sites suited to them such as valley bottoms prone to mist and drizzle, and there are many magnificent stands in various parts of the country, perhaps the best known being the Redwood Memorial Grove at Whakarewarewa near Rotorua. These trees are now 115 years old, with the tallest achieving 72 metres in height. Locally the stands in Te Mata Park are gaining in popularity.
Well known for its sheer presence as a specimen, the Redwood has other slightly less well known, almost unique, characteristics. It has extremely thick fibrous bark, which is not only fire resistant, but also resistant to fungal and insect attack when left to naturally shed branches. (When young trees are pruned in a forestry regime, nasties can enter through pruning scars). Unlike most conifers, Redwoods can re-propagate by coppicing from cut-over stumps, and generally only produce any number of cones when under severe stress. Cones are quite small (2cm) and ovate, containing small winged seeds.
The Redwood forests of California were plundered for their stable, durable, light, easily worked timber, which was used for building railway sleepers etc. The timber was imported into New Zealand and most commonly used for window frames, doors etc.
The heartwood of New Zealand grown Redwood is only moderately durable (10 to 15 years in the ground), and is not strong, but is fine for exterior cladding, fence palings etc. Without treatment the sapwood decays quite rapidly near the ground, and can be subject to insect attack. It is an interesting timber to mill, while being a softwood, can behave like a hardwood off the saw – warping and “shaking” (splitting along the grain). The heartwood varies from red to pink, browning off as it ages, which contrasts nicely with the pale creamy sapwood.
The International Book of Trees, Hugh Johnson;
Trees Timbers and Forests of the World, Edlin/Nimmo;
New Zealand Timbers, N. C. Clifton.