By Tim Clancy, for Let’s Talk Plants! September 2022.
One way to get to see some of the oldest trees in the world is to take a drive along route 395. This was the road I took on my way to see the world-famous Bristlecone pines. There are plenty of sights to see along the way as you drive through different California climates. One of these sights is a tree I didn’t know existed until I turned off the 395 onto the 168 at the Big Pine Recreation Area information center.
On July 23rd, 1913, a Giant Sequoia was planted at this spot. This would be the first time I have seen a Giant Redwood in person. I was, of course, delighted and spent more time than my passengers would have liked admiring the tree.
The tree was planted to commemorate the opening of the Westgard Pass. It was named the Roosevelt Tree in honor of the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. I imagine the project was greenlighted by the Roosevelt administration and thus the name. This tree is, to the best of my determination, the original Giant Redwood to have the name Roosevelt.
As you can see in the picture, at 100 years old the tree was rather large and in good condition. This indicates that it was having all its cultural needs met, mostly water and light (sun). I did not see an irrigation system, so it apparently lived on the whatever rainfall was available and/or some unseen underground source flowing down from the White Mountains. Either way, there was nobody fertilizing it or injecting some snake oil product that would “benefit” the tree.
There are two other trees that are referred to as Roosevelt both named after the 26th president. One can be found in Kings Canyon National Park in the Redwood Mountain Grove. The tree was discovered in 1920 some seven years after the Big Pine planting. Of course, its place as the world’s 20th largest tree means it was planted long before the Big Pine tree. Here is a link to the Famous Redwoods Page with more information http://famousredwoods.com/roosevelt/. It has some great pictures and is well worth checking out.
The other Giant Redwood named after the former president is located in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park. This grove is home to many famous trees as well; included are several world record holders such as the world’s largest tree, the oldest redwood and the redwood with the most leaves, in excess of 2 billion, (imagine counting those!) I believe the name was assigned after the Big Pine planting but have not been able to confirm that fact yet.
Both trees in the National parks are still living and can be admired in person should you wish. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the Big Pine Roosevelt tree. Some 10 years after my unintended introduction to the stately tree it was removed. The tree was in the wrong place for a drought. The tree declined over a several year period and was deemed functionally (if not literally) dead and for this reason removed. There is an article about the tree located here. https://sierrawave.net/the-big-pine-roosevelt-giant-sequoia-tree-passes-into-history/. It has some great pictures including a 1921 photo.
You never know what you are going to find when you are out there looking at trees. My accidental discovery led me to research redwoods and my journey has been greatly rewarded. I did make it to the Bristlecone pines that day and that is another story.
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