Friday, June 28, 2013

Another of the giants: the incense cedar (Libocedrus decurrens)

Naturalist and mountaineer John Muir (1838-1914) was fascinated with giant conifers rivaling Sequoia trees in stature and strength. In his book The Mountains of California he “praised” the Douglas spruce, ponderosa pine and sugar pine, including its sugar (“nanómba” in the Washoe language). Here is how Muir introduced another evergreen tree of western North American, the incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), for which he used the scientific synonym Libocedrus decurrens [1]:

The Incense Cedar is another of the giants quite generally distributed throughout this portion [Sierra Nevada] of the forests, without exclusively occupying any considerable area, or even making extensive groves. It ascends to about 5000 feet on the warmer hillsides, and reaches the climate most congenial to it at about from 3000 to 4000 feet, growing vigorously at this elevation on all kinds of soil, and in particular it is capable of enduring more moisture about its roots than any of its companions, excepting only the Sequoia.
John Muir, 1894.

Muir sketched an  incense cedar in its prime—standing straight, erect, with a columnar crown; although he mentioned that older trees often show irregular growth with large, elbowed branches growing parallel to the main trunk.
Calocedrus decurrens is as also known as California post cedar, white cedar and bastard cedar (see, for example, Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) of David's Grove in Reno and the Calocedrus decurrens entry in the Gymnosperm Database) .

Keywords: conifers, Cupressaceae, natural history, incense cedar synonyms, Sierra Nevada.

References and more to explore
[1] John Muir: The Mountains of California. The Century Company, New York, 1894. Note: see pages 120 to 122  in the Penguin Classics Book print of 1985 with an introduction by Edward Hoagland.

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