The Double Cone Quarterly
Window to the Wilderness
Winter Solstice 1998 || Volume I, Number 3

Santa Lucia Fir, Abies Bracteata
A lithograph from George Lawson's Pinetum Britannicum, vol. 2, 1884, from a drawing by William Murray. The original measures 12x16 inches. The subcaption on the left reads "W. Richardson, lith. from a Sketch by Mr. W. Murray," and the one on the right reads "Day & Son, Lith'rs to the Queen."

An Addendum on the Botanical History of Santa Lucia Fir,
Abies bracteata,
with Excerpts from the Notes and Letters of Early Collectors.
By David Rogers, © 1998

This somewhat rambling addendum to my article on the Santa Lucia Fir, which appeared in the September (1998) edition of the Double Cone Quarterly, has been thrown together in order to relay some interesting information on the botanical history of this species, most of which I have discovered during the last three months. I have also included two landscape illustrations of groves of Santa Lucia Fir, one published in 1859 and the other in 1884, two highly detailed botanical illustrations that were published in 1889 and 1890, and a larger and more detailed distribution map.

As often stated in the following notes and letters of the early collectors of Santa Lucia Fir specimens, they found Abies bracteata in a canyon located on the seaward facing slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains, and many noted a stand of Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) on the ridge above. As the local Sugar Pine populations are restricted to Junipero Serra Peak and the Cone Peak area, the noted Sugar Pine stand was certainly the Cone Peak population, and thus most of these explorers must have crossed the mountains via a trail that followed at least the general route of what is now known as the Carrizo Trail. Consequently, it is most likely that the trees from which the first Santa Lucia Fir specimens were collected belonged to the relatively large stand in the South Fork of Devil's Canyon. In 1897 Alice Eastwood, of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, described this route as "the most rugged but most attractive of all these trails [she had also crossed the mountains via the Los Burros and Plaskett trails]. Long ago it was much traveled by the Indians, but now a traveler rarely crosses the mountain by that route. It passes through the only grove of Pinus lambertiana now left in these mountains." Two sentences later she wrote that "Pinus lambertiana is said to have been abundant formerly on the slopes of Santa Lucia Peak [now Junipero Serra Peak], and a few trees are yet left" (Eastwood 1897). She apparently never saw the old-growth stand on the north slope of this mountain. Eastwood's statements provide perhaps the clearest reference to the probability that the history of the Carrizo Trail goes back beyond its use by the early homesteaders in the Lucia area, and its use may predate the establishment of Mission San Antonio in 1771. As the padres at Mission San Antonio were said to be familiar with the Santa Lucia Fir, the resin of which they used in the manufacturing of incense (Peebles cited in Murray 1859 and in Lawson 1884; Jepson 1910), it is likely that they discovered this species on an excursion to coastal rancherias (villages), via trails that the Salinian people had established between their coastal and interior settlements, in order to persuade the inhabitants to take up residence at the mission.

It is also possible that the padres at Mission San Antonio played a major role in the botanical discovery of Abies bracteata, for they are reported to have been very generous to the early explorers, and provided them with food, lodging and the use of horses, all without charge (Harvey 1947, Ewan 1973). It is thus easy to imagine that the padres also freely shared what they knew about the plants of the region, and where to find them. As at least the two earliest collectors, David Douglas and Thomas Coulter, were fluent in Spanish, communication was not a problem.

Which brings me to the complicated issue as to which one of these men was the first to encounter the Santa Lucia Fir. Of the twenty five or so texts that I have reviewed which address this matter, most of the authors state that the credit belongs to Coulter, although many state that it was Douglas who first found the species, and only a few say these men found it at about the same time. After a careful review of all available information, it appears fairly certain that they found Abies bracteata at the same time.

In a letter to Sir William Hooker, dated November 23rd, 1831, Douglas stated that "since I began this letter, Dr. Coulter, from the Central States of the Republic of Mexico, has arrived here [Monterey], with the intention of taking all he can find to De Candolle at Geneva... and I do assure you, from my heart, it is a terrible pleasure to me thus to meet a really good man, and one with whom I can talk of plants" (Douglas in Hooker, 1836, p. 151). At this time Douglas was hoping that a ship would arrive at Monterey that could take him to either Hawaii or the Columbia River, and thus he "could not venture to be absent more than fifteen or twenty days from the coast." It was not until August of 1832 that Douglas set sail on a ship bound for the Pacific Northwest. While spending the winter of 1831-1832 in Monterey, it is said that Douglas and Coulter became good friends, which seems natural as they were both English speaking botanists from Great Britain in a Mexican and Indian community of about 700 people. They are assumed to have spent much time together, not only while collecting and discussing plants, but also while fishing and hunting. Both were also enlisted in the Compania Extranjera (Company of Foreigners), a group of about 60 foreign residents of Monterey, who organized, under the leadership of William Hartnell, to assist in keeping order in the capital during a rebellion against the government in January of 1832. On or shortly after March 20, 1832, Thomas Coulter departed from Monterey on an expedition that would take him through southern California and across the desert to the Colorado River. While exact details are not known, most authorities believe that Coulter collected both Pinus coulteri and Abies bracteata during his stopover at Mission San Antonio in late March of that year (Harvey 1947, Nelson & Probert 1994, Coville 1895, others). As for Douglas, we know both the month and the year he collected Abies bracteata (Pinus venusta), for in a letter to Sir William Hooker, that was dated October 23, 1832, Douglas stated that "I will now mention another new Pinus to you (P. venusta), which I discovered last March, on the high mountains of California (you will begin to think that I manufacture Pines at my pleasure). As my notes are not at hand, I must describe by memory (Douglas in Hooker, 1836). It thus seems likely that Douglas had accompanied Coulter on part of his journey. Douglas' full description of the Santa Lucia Fir is as follows:

Leaves solitary, two ranked, green above, glaucus beneath. Cone cylindrical, three to four inches long, erect; scales orbicular, deciduous (like those of P. balsamea), with an entire bractea or appendage between the scales, exserted to three or four inches and a half! When on the tree, being in great clusters and at a great height withal, these cones resemble the inflorescence of a Banksia, a name which I should have liked to give to the species, but that there is a Pinus Banksii already. This tree attains a great size and height, and is, as a whole, a most beautiful object. It is never seen at a lower elevation than six thousand feet above the level of the sea, in latitude 36 degrees, where it is not uncommon. I saw for a second time, and in a new habitat, Pinus Lambertiana, more southerly on the mountains of Santa Lucia, in Upper California. The cones were in fine condition, though perhaps a little too young and somewhat longer than those I had discovered to the North in 1826. The timber in this new situation is the largest of all, but by no means so fine as that in 43 and 45 degrees of N. latitude, where the temperature is doubtless more congenial to it (Douglas in Hooker, 1836).
Information about Coulter's observations appear to be limited to that which was stated by David Don:
This curious and interesting species of fir was discovered by Dr. Coulter on the sea side of the mountain range of Santa Lucia, about 1000 feet lower down than [Pinus] Coulteri. The trunk rises to the height of 120 feet, is very slender, not exceeding two feet in circumference, and as straight as an arrow. The upper third of the tree is clothed with branches, giving it the appearance of an elongated pyramid. The branches are spreading, the lower ones are decumbent. The bracts are long and recurved, and but little changed from the ordinary leaves, which give the cones a singular appearance. The seeds are remarkable for a peculiarity in their structure, in having the nucleus exposed at the inner angle of the seed through a considerable opening in the outer testa, as if the junction of the two sides had been prevented by the rapid enlargement of the nucleus. It is only the middle branches that bear cones (Don 1836).
The unique characteristics of Abies bracteata caught the attention of botanists and horticulturists in Great Britain, were it soon became "one of the greatest desiderata among unintroduced Coniferous trees" (Lindley 1853). Subsequently a number of expeditions were made to California, with one of the primary objectives being the acquisition of Abies bracteata seeds. The first of these excursions was made by Theodor Hartweg for the Horticultural Society of London. Although Mr. Hartweg arrived in Monterey in June of 1846, it was not until September of 1847 that he was able to make an excursion to the Santa Lucia Mountains, for this was during he Mexican-American War, and the Californianos had taken all available horses at Monterey to fight the battle of San Pascual near San Diego (Hartweg 1847). The following excerpts are from Mr. Hartweg's journal:
On September the 20th I again left Monterey for the southern parts, which, on account of the disturbed state of last year, I could not visit before. As a guide I engaged the services of a man who had accompanied me on my last excursion to Santa Cruz, and who, from his profession as a hunter, was well aquainted with the intricate mountain paths of the district I intended to visit. On the day of our starting we reached the mission of La Soledad, an ill-constructed, half-ruined building, situate in the Salinas valley, and encamped towards evening on the banks of the Salinas river, within a short distance of the mission.

By sunrise the following morning we were again on horseback, and leaving the main road on the right, we entered a mountain defile leading to the mission of San Antonio. Here I observed a shrubby Arctostaphylos, with large brown seeds [probably A. glauca, Big-Berried Manzanita]; a half-climbing Caprifolium (C. No. 133), profusely covered with scarlet berries [probably Lonicera interrupta, Chaparral Honeysuckle]; an evergreen shrubby Oak (Q. No. 8) [most likely Quercus berberidifolia, Scrub Oak]; and a sub-deciduous Oak (Q. No. 7), the latter forming a tree 30 feet high [and thus almost certainly Quercus douglasii, Blue Oak].

From San Antonio a range of mountains extends along the coast, attaining a great elevation, which, although apparently barren as seen from the mission, I was assured on the western flank towards the sea is covered by large Pines. The lower region of this range, at the foot of which the mission is built, is thinly covered by the evergreen Californian Oak [while this statement suggests a savanna dominated by Quercus agrifolia, i.e., Coast Live Oak, anyone who is familiar with the trees of this region knows that these savannas are dominated by Quercus lobata, i.e., California or Valley White Oak], a Ceanothus [California Lilac], Cercocarpus [Mountain Mahogany], a small-leaved shrubby Fraxinus [ash, probably F. dipetala], and Pinus Sabiniana [Foothill or Digger Pine]- the latter at the time with ripe cones. An evergreen shrubby Prunus, called Islay [P. ilicifolia, Holly-Leaved Cherry], with a holly-like leaf, bearing a red fruit resembling the cherry-plum, grows so abundantly here. The thin pulp which surrounds proportionate large seed is sweet and pleasant to eat. The kernel, after being roasted and made into a gruel, is a favorite dish among the Indians. Having ascended the first ridge, we passed through thickets of Arctostaphylos tomentosa [actually A. glandulousa] and Ceanothus thrysiflorus [probably C. oliganthus sorediatus], and entered a forest of Pinus Lambertiana. The cones of this noble Pine are always hanging from the points of the branches, were by this time already open, and the seeds had fallen out. From cones that had been blown down, I picked out a few seeds.

Descending the western flank of the great mountain range, I found at last the long-wished-for Abies bracteata, occupying exclusively ravines. This remarkable Fir attains the height of 50 feet [Hartweg must have found depauperate trees], with a stem from 12 to 15 feet in diameter [if he did not mean inches, he must be describing the branching diameter at the base of a tree], one third of which is free of branches [he must be describing the narrow spire, which is shortly branched and occupies about the upper third of the crown], and the remainder forming an elongated tapering pyramid, of which of the upper part, for three feet, is productive of cones.

Having cut down some trees, I found to my regret that the cones were but half-grown, and had been frost-bitten. In more sheltered situations, towards the sea-shore, the same happened to be the case; and I was thus precluded all hope of introducing this remarkable Fir into Europe.

Finding it impracticable to prosecute my journey to the south along the coast, from the numerous ravines which descend from the mountain range, I returned to hence to San Antonio, and crossed by the farm of El Piojo, where the ridge is less elevated [he thus took the route used by the Portola expedition in 1770] (Hartweg 1848).

William Lobb was the next explorer on a mission to collect Abies bracteata seeds, and his efforts in 1849 proved to be quite successful. Mr. Lobb had been sent to California by Veitch & Co. (an English horticultural firm that specialized in conifers), with the primary goal of collecting as many Abies bracteata seeds as possible. Lobb shipped the seeds to England in 1850, and in 1853 a "crop of fine healthy plants" was sent to market (Ewan 1973, Lindley 1853). The following excerpts are from a letter that Mr. Lobb had sent to James Veitch:
This beautiful and singular tree forms here the most conspicuous ornament of the arborescent vegetation. On the western slopes, towards the sea, it occupies the deepest ravines, and thus attains the height of 120 to 150 feet, and from 1 to 2 feet in diameter; the trunk is as straight as an arrow, the lower branches decumbent; the branches of the upper part are numerous, short, and thickly set, forming a long tapered pyramid or spire, which gives to the tree that peculiar appearance which is not seen in any other kinds of the Pinus tribe. When standing far apart, and clear from the surrounding trees, the lower branches frequently reach the ground, and not a portion of the trunk is seen from the base to the top.

Along the summit of the central ridges, and about the highest peaks, in the most exposed and coldest places imaginable, where no other Pine makes its appearance, it stands the severity of the climate without the slightest perceptible injury, growing in slaty rubbish which, to all appearances, is incapable of supporting vegetation. In such situations it becomes stunted and bushy, but even the foliage maintains the same beautiful dark green colour, and when seen at a distance it appears more like a handsome grown Cedar than a Pine. No doubt it is one of the hardiest trees of the Californian vegetation, and is equally well adapted for clothing the mountain tops as the sheltered valley.

The cones, too, are quite as singular as the growth of the tree is beautiful; when fully developed, the scales, as well as the long leaf-like bracts, are covered with globules of thin transparent resin, presenting to the eye a curious and striking object.

Douglas was mistaken in saying that this Fir does not occur below 6000 feet elevation. On the contrary, it is found as low as 3000 feet, where it meets Taxodium sempervirens [Sequoia sempervirens, Coast Redwood] (Lobb in Lindley, 1853).

In the middle and later part of October, 1856, A. F. Beardsley made an expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains to collect Abies bracteata seeds. Mr. Beardsley was a seed collector who had worked for Lawson & Co. of Edinburgh from about 1852 to 1854, and probably for others later (Ewan 1973). His expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains was made at the request of Andrew Murray of the Edinburgh Botanical Society. Mr. Beardsley was also an "old fellow-traveler and co-explorer" of Andrew Murray's brother, William Murray of San Francisco (Murray 1859). The following are excerpts from a letter Mr. Beardsley sent to Andrew Murray:
After finishing my collections in this vicinity [Monterey], I set out for the Santa Lucia mountains below the mission of San Antonio; our equipage from Monterey consisted of a waggon drawn by two horses, three loose animals, to ride and pack into the mountains, one Dutchman, one greaser, one rifle, two revolvers, two bowie knives, camping utensils, &c., and provisions for twelve days. We reached the Mission the third day; here we left our waggon, and proceeded on horseback into the mountains, in search of Abies bracteata, which we found on the second day, on the western slope of the range, about 30 miles from the Mission, and about 10 miles from the sea-coast, by the worst trail that I have ever traveled in this or any other country. After passing the divide, and descending to the west, I fell in with the tree, occupying the mountain sides as well as the ravines, and not 'exclusively the ravines,' as described by Hartweg.

I was greatly disappointed in finding the cones too ripe to be able to obtain a supply of seed. I tried cutting the top off, but a few strokes of the hatchet shattered the cones in pieces, and scattered the seeds the winds. The only plan was to climb to a most dangerous height and pick off the few cones which could be reached. They went to pieces in my hand the moment they were touched. The cones only occupy a few feet of the top, hence the difficulty and danger in obtaining them.

I have never seen any description that does justice to this most beautiful of all the firs; it rises to the height of 130 feet, straight as a line, the trunk tapering regularly from the ground to the top; clothed with branches, which are slim and graceful, down to the ground; the outlines of the branches taper almost as regularly as the trunk, giving the appearance of an 'elongated pyramid,' as Hartweg describes it; but I would rather call it a tall spire with a pyramidal base of two thirds of the lower part of the tree; the pencil of the artist could not give it a more regular shape than it appears in nature. I saw no tree deprived of its lower branches, except in thickets where it was impossible for them to grow; and there was none, with the above exceptions, that I could not step from the ground on to its branches. Not the least remarkable thing is, that these branches bear fine foliage down to the ground, and the branchlets often touch the ground. I have found it occupying exclusively the calcareous districts abounding with ledges of white, veined, and gray marble [a large marble deposit extends through much of the South Fork of Devil's Canyon].

We encamped for the night on the point of a ridge, the only place to be found level, and large enough to make down our beds; in the evening, it commenced raining, and increased into a regular driving storm. We passed the most horrible night that ever fell to my lot to experience; we were totally unprovided, as there was no appearance of a storm when we lay down a short time after dark. We had provided wood only to cook with, and we were obliged to get it with great labour, and at the risk of breaking our necks, to keep from freezing. With great difficulty we kept our fire up until morning. The mountains here are steep as the law of gravity will admit, and in a state of disintegration; the rocks from the ledges above were detached by the rains, and came tumbling down past us, making a fearful crashing among the trees, increasing in speed until they landed among the rocks at the bottom of the ravine below us, with a noise which sent its reverberations up among the hills like peals of thunder. The impenetrable darkness of the night, the howl of the tempest, the crashing of falling rocks, together with the severity of the cold rain, almost snow, made the night truly awful. We saw a large grizzly bear just before dark, and plenty of fresh tracks everywhere, which added nothing to the enjoyments of the night. Day-light came at last, and with it a clear sky, which I hailed with more gratitude, I think, than I ever did in my life,- thankful that I was alive.

I had intended to have spent a portion of the day in collecting what few seeds I could; but the storm had beaten them off, so that all attempts in this vicinity were useless. After breakfast, we packed up and took the back track. After passing the first ridge, I descended into a deep gulch where there were a few trees, and found all the seeds gone. I descended again on the north side, and found one small tree that had a few shattered cones left, and obtained about a handful. I attempted to cut off the top, but the first few strokes of the hatchet knocked them off, and I was obliged to give it up for the season. We reached Monterey after an absence of nine days. We had killed on the trip, four deer, three antelopes, one hare, one wild cat, and seen two grizzly bears (Beardsley in Murray, 1859).

In 1857 William Lobb made another expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains, but on this trip he was not as successful in collecting Abies bracteata seeds than he was on his first mission. This may have been due to the predation of seeds by insects, a factor that Mr. Lobb was the first to notice. By this time Mr. Lobb had become rather infamous among American botanists. In 1852 A. T. Dowd, a grizzly bear hunter, came across what is now known as Sequoiadendron giganteum (the Big Tree of the Sierras), and it is believed that he collected the specimens of leaves which ended up at the newly established California Academy of Sciences at San Francisco. As the specimens lacked flowers or fruits, Albert Kellogg, one of founding members of the academy, was waiting to get complete herbarium specimens before making a formal description of the species, which he was planning to name Washingtonia gigantea, in honor of you know who. Kellogg made the mistake of showing Lobb the specimens and providing him with information about the species, and Lobb wasted no time in getting to the Sierras. Having the luck to find a newly fallen tree, Lobb collected complete specimens, plenty of seed, two small living plants, measurements of the incredible size of the tree, and immediately took passage on a ship bound for England. On Christmas eve of 1853, John Lindley published the first formal description of the species in the Gardener's Chronicle, which he named Wellingtonia gigantea, in honor of the Duke of Wellington (Ewan 1973).

In September of 1858 William Peebles, at the request of William Murray of San Francisco, made an expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains, but he too found that his attempts at cutting down trees resulted in the disintegration of the cones, and thus the only seeds that were collected were from cones he acquired by climbing the trees. Mr. Peebles discovered that the padres at Mission San Antonio used the resin of this species to make incense, and he sent a sample to Andrew Murray in Scotland, who described its fragrance as "pleasantly terebinthine" (Murray 1859). Although Mr. Peebles was not very successful in his efforts to collect Abies bracteata seeds, he utilized his artistic skills to produce the following landscape drawing of trees growing in their native habitat.

Santa Lucia Fir, Abies Bracteata

William Peebles' drawing of Santa Lucia Firs growing in their native habitat, probably in the South Fork of Devil's Canyon. The mountains in the background are likely to represent Twin Peak (on the right) and Cone Peak (on the left). From the Transactions of the Edinburgh Botanical Society, vol. 6, 1859. The subcaption on the left reads "W. Peebles delt.," and the one on the right reads "W. & A. K. Johnston, Edin."

At some date prior to 1882 Albert Kellogg, of the California Academy of Sciences, made an expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains, and he must have been quite enamored with Abies bracteata, for he composed the following, and rather fanciful, description of the species:

This exceedingly elegant steeple-shaped Fringe Cone Fir is of the most extraordinary aspiring beauty, and quite unlike any other silver fir of the Pacific... This invaluable, rare, and hitherto little known fir, rises from one to two hundred feet high, and from two to four feet in diameter; trunk as trim and straight as an arrow, but full of knots that extend well to the center; branching so low, it furnishes little or no proper lumber, but is a perfect pattern of sylvan perfection on the symmetrical plan. Arctic or alpine trees of this extremely attenuated type- the slender parts are frequently broken in outline by the severity of their clime, and hence exhibit more variety, often bordering upon the fantastic- but these are so sheltered by the deep gorges in which they grow, and being so thickly branched below, as well as throughout, and clad in a light green dress of silvery sheened foliage nearly or quite to the feet, gives them the most exquisitely feminine expression it is possible to conceive. Besides the modest plumy-fringed cones, evanishing up in the blue amid a kind of gossamery webby haze, is eminently pleasing; the foliage is gemmed with golden drops of gum, that glitter in the sunlight like radiant beaded jewels, thus sparkling all over, from crown to foot, with gold and dewy diamonds, contribute no little to effect beauty and to more oriental ornamentation of this fringe fir. According to our taste, this is the loveliest of California's silver firs- most ornamental, most valuable- but it is only a half-hardy tree, not well suited to great extremes of temperature or exposure to violent winds. So far as we know, this fir is only found in the Santa Lucia Mountains, latitude thirty-six of Southern California, altitude from four to six thousand feet (Kellogg 1882).
At some time during the mid to late 1800's George Vasey, an agrostologist (botanists who are primarily interested in the study of grasses) of the U. S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC., who also had a strong interest in conifers, made an expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains, but the only citations that I have found about his observations of Abies bracteata are limited to brief statements in two non-referenced articles (Masters 1889, Hansen 1892). Another botanist who visited the Santa Lucia Mountains at some time during the mid to late 1880's was Townshend Brandegee, of the University of California at Berkeley, and based on the notes on the labels of his herbarium specimens which I have seen, it appears that he visited only the southern half of what is now the Monterey Division of Los Padres National Forest. I have not yet had the time to review Brandegee's field notes, which are on file at U. C. Berkeley, thus my information about his expedition is limited to the following footnote in Sargent (1898): "The log specimen in the Jesup Collection of North American Woods in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, cut by T. S. Brandegee in one of the canyons of the Santa Lucia Mountains facing the ocean, is twenty-four and three quarters inches in diameter inside the bark and one hundred and twenty-four years old, with an inch of sapwood consisting of forty-one layers of annual growth." Remember that in my last article I stated that the only known reports of trees being logged were those near Cape San Martin (that may have been cut by whalers); I am now beginning to suspect that botanists may have been the greatest exploiters of this noble species.

Santa Lucia Fir, Abies Bracteata

A woodcut of Abies bracteata from James Vetch's A Manual of the Coniferae, 1881. The subcaption reads "Abies bracteata at Tortsworth Court. Present height (1881) 20 feet."

By at least the late 1880s, plants growing in England had began to produce flowers and fruits, and from the trees growing in the gardens of Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, the first truly detailed illustrations of the reproductive features of Abies bracteata were drawn.

Santa Lucia Fir, Abies Bracteata

From The Gardener's Chronicle, third series, volume 5, page 241, February 23, 1889. The subcaption reads "Fig. 44.-Abies bracteata, from Eastnor Castle Gardens: cone purplish-brown."

Santa Lucia Fir, Abies Bracteata

From The Gardener's Chronicle, third series, volume 7, page 673, May 31, 1890. The subcaption reads "Fig. 112.-Abies bracteata, showing male flowers, anthers, pollen, and expanding shoot."

In the spring of 1897 Alice Eastwood, of the California Academy of Sciences, made an expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains, and one of her primary objectives was to collect specimens of staminate and pistillate flowers of Abies bracteata, from which illustrations could be made for Charles Sargent's The Silva of North America (these illustrations were included in my preceding article). In the following excerpts from a report that Eastwood compiled on her explorations in the Santa Lucia Mountains in 1897, she mentions the Santa Lucia Trail, which she had traveled "some years ago." According to Griffin (1975), who reviewed Eastwood's memoirs at the California Academy of Sciences, in June of 1893 she had hiked from the Kirk Ranch (between Mission San Antonio and The Indians, in section 35, T21S R5E) to the Dani Ranch (near Lucia, in section 9 T21S R4E). As she noted that this trail passed through a forest of Sugar Pine, her "Santa Lucia Trail" must have followed the route of what are now known as the Carrizo and Gamboa trails.

Another trail further north [of the Los Burros trail] is now known as the Plaskett trail; formerly it was called Mansfield's trail... Looking down into the deep canyon of San Miguel Creek, south of the trail, but near by, and off into the distant canyon on the north that marks the headwaters of the Nacimiento River, peculiar trees can be seen lifting spire-like summits above all the others. These trees are known botanically as Abies bracteata, the rarest existing fir, and confined to a few canyons of these mountains. When once seen these trees can recognized as far as the eye can reach. While there are few individuals, comparatively, the number of small trees coming up in San Miguel Canyon assures us that the species is in no danger of extermination.

Mr. E. C. Mansfield and the writer visited this locality May 1 of the present year [1897], to obtain flowering specimens, which had, until then, never been collected [remember that specimens had previously been obtained from trees growing in England]. The trees were in full flower; the pollen had begun to float through the air, and near the tops of all large trees female flowers were plainly to be seen. Coulter records that only the middle branches bear cones. This was not so with the trees observed in this canyon. Owing to the great difficulty experienced by Mr. Mansfield in reaching the topmost boughs and in securing specimens, only a few pistillate flowers were obtained, and these Mr. Mansfield carried down, holding the twigs, to which they were attached, in his mouth, so as to keep them intact on the branches. The specimens are in the Herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences, duplicates having been sent to Prof. C. S. Sargent to be represented in the "Silva of North America." The staminate flowers were more abundantly collected, being so much more easily obtained.

The firs seen in this canyon had lost their lower branches, and therefore, lacked the symmetrical outline from the base to the summit which the most perfect specimens exhibited. The writer, some years ago, saw two trees in a gulch further north which the Santa Lucia trail crosses, where the lowest branches reached almost to the ground, and the trees tapered to perfect cones with long, pointed tops waving plume-like in the breeze. The trunk, at the upper part, sends down long, slender branchlets that droop as do those of the weeping willow or weeping spruce. Even the upper boughs have a tendency to grow downward, thus rendering the foothold of an adventurous climber somewhat precarious, since the slightest breath of wind sways the slender upper axis back and forth.

The mountaineers were all enthusiastic in their admiration of this tree, which they name the "Silver Fir." When the cones have attained full growth they have a purplish hue, and the long, slender exserted bracts become gemmed with drops of resin. The upper part of the tree seems full of odd-looking birdnests set with diamonds. The beauty of the fruit-laden branches can perhaps be imagined (Eastwood 1897).

Prior to 1902 all of the reports concerning the distribution of Abies bracteata that had been published in botanical literature were limited to the populations that occur in the Cone Peak area and in few localities farther south, which lead a number of botanists to conclude that the Santa Lucia Fir was extremely rare and in danger of extinction in its native territory. In 1898 Charles Sargent wrote:
Of the species of Abies now known no other occupies such a small territory, for it grows only in a few isolated groves, the largest containing not more than two hundred trees, scattered along the moist bottoms of canyons, which in summer often become completely dry, usually at elevations of about three thousand feet on both slopes of the outer western ridge of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Monterey County, California... Fortunately this beautiful tree, one of the handsomest and most interesting of its race, has thus found a foothold in the Old World, for the fires which are frequent and destructive in the forests of the dry coast ranges of southern California seem destined sooner or later to exterminate it from its last retreat in America (Sargent 1898).
Sargent went on to dismiss the reports of early collectors who stated that the species was not limited to canyon bottoms, and in addressing William Lobb's report that it occurred on the summits of ridges, he wrote "since Lobb's time fire has probably destroyed all the trees except those which were protected by the moisture in the bottoms of the deepest canyons." In the second edition of Veitch's Manual of the Coniferae, Adolphus Kent wrote:
In view of the threatened extinction of this noble tree in its native home, I append a list of all the finest specimens in Great Britain known to me, in the hope that the owners will not allow the seeds that may hereafter be produced by them to be wasted or lost. Boconnoc, Cornwall; Castlewellan, Co. Down; Castle Kennedy, Wigtownshire; Eastnor Castle, Ledbury (2); Foothill Abbey, Wilts; Fota Island, Cork; Highnam Court, Gloucester; Kentfield Hall, Canterbury; Kinnettles, Forfar; Newcourt, Exeter; Orton Hall, Peterborough; Possingworth, Sussex; Streatham Hall, Exeter (2); Tortworth Court, Gloucestershire (2); Upcott, Barnstaple; Warnham Court, Horsham (Kent 1900).
In 1901 Willis Linn Jepson of the University of California at Berkeley visited the Santa Lucia Mountains, and like so many of the preceding botanical collectors, he traveled from Avila Ranch (in section 28 T21S R5E) to the Dani Ranch (in section 9, T21S R4E) via what is now known as Carrizo and Gamboa trails (Jepson 1910, Griffin 1975). In describing the area around the summit of this trail, Jepson stated that:
These peaks [Cone Peak and Twin Peak] stand in the main axis of the coast ridge and are scarcely a mile apart. The San Antonio Trail [remember that Eastwood knew this route as the Santa Lucia Trail] to the coast from Mission San Antonio passes over the ridge here and descends into the Arroyo Grande [perhaps, like the transformation of Rio Grande del Sur into the Big Sur River, Arroyo Grande was transformed into Big Creek]. The trees cling to the abrupt eastern side of the peaks, with hundreds and perhaps thousands reaching down into the canyon below, which is on the headwaters of the Nacimiento River [actually the San Antonio River]. On the western side of the divide they cover the canyon wall pretty well and climb to the very summit of the peaks; even on the south slope of the canyon, in hollows and nooks, there are many trees here and there. The writer crossed the range by this trail in 1901 and believes Twin Peaks to be the locality visited by Coulter, Douglas and Lobb (Jepson 1910).
Although Jepson seems to have observed many more trees in the Cone Peak area than did most of his predecessors, his explorations did not include areas of the Santa Lucia Mountains that had not previously been explored by botanists. Another expedition dating to 1901, however, ventured deep into the heart of what is now the Ventana Wilderness, and consequently the notions about Abies bracteata being on the brink of extinction, limited to four or five stations, and restricted to moist canyon bottoms, were disproved.

In June of 1901, William Dudley, the first professor of botany at Stanford University, and A. D. E. Elmer, one of his students (and a very prolific collector of plant specimens), arrived at Tassajara Hot Springs on a mission to "botanize" the central regions of the northern Santa Lucia Mountains. Dudley was also a leading member of the Sierra Club and for a number of years one of it directors. Although I have not yet had a chance to review Dudley's fieldnotes, which are on file at Stanford University, I was able to reconstruct the routes and time frame of Dudley and Elmer's explorations from the dates and localities given on the labels of their herbarium specimens, which are on file at the California Academy of Sciences. This information also provides the earliest known usages of a number of place names between Jamesburg and Lost Valley, including some that are no longer in use.

After collecting herbarium specimens along Tassajara Road on the tenth of June, 1901, Dudley and Elmer arrived at Tassajara Hot Springs, where they spent about five days. During this period they collected plants in the vicinity of the resort, and Elmer ventured out as far as the Horse Pasture. Their first major excursion from the hot springs was to the north-northwest, along the route of what is now known as the Church Creek Trail, and after passing through "Grindstone Canyon" (an area now known as the Windcaves), they collected specimens of Abies bracteata near "Church's place" at The Caves. They continued through the "pass" between "Pine Valley and Church's" (the Church Creek Divide) and arrived at Pine Valley, where it seems they established a base camp from which they could explore the upper watershed of the Carmel River.

To the southwest of Pine Valley they ventured into Bear Basin and to the "ridge slope between Bear Basin and Big Pines" (certainly the Pine Ridge summit), and to the east they crossed over the "ridge between Pine Valley and Miller Canyon," and got as far as a "meadow in Miller Canyon." This suggests that there had been a trail directly linking Pine Valley and Miller's Canyon, which is quite possible, for the only privately held land in both localities at that time were in the possession of the same owner, John McKay. Mr. McKay purchased a patent to 160 acres of land in Pine Valley in 1891, and purchased the Chew homestead in Miller's Canyon in 1893.

To the north-northwest of Pine Valley Dudley and Elmer descended to the Carmel River via the "Spanish Trail" through "Spanish Canyon" (now known as Hiding Canyon), where Dudley collected plants at the "mouth of Ventana Cr., Carmel River." It seems probable that Dudley's Ventana Creek is what is now known as Ventana Mesa Creek, for Elmer collected plants in the vicinity of a waterfall in what he called "Silver Fir Canyon," and there is a waterfall on Ventana Mesa Creek a short distance above its mouth. As I recall, there are also plenty of "Silver Firs" in this canyon.

While Dudley and Elmer may have been surprised to find Abies bracteata in the Church Creek area, they must have been astounded by the number of trees that they discovered in the upper watershed of the Carmel River, for their observations increased the number of plants known to botanists by many multiples.

By the 23rd of June, Dudley and Elmer had returned to Tassajara Hot Springs, from where they set off on another excursion to the south-southwest, to Indian Valley and Lost Valley. After crossing the ridge south of the hot springs via Tony's Trail, they arrived at Willow Creek, and then took what is now known as the Marble Peak Trail to Indian Valley. Dudley referred to this trail as "Leigh's mountain trail," for at that time John Wickham Leigh, the long-time owner and editor of the Monterey Democrat newspaper, owned three properties that were connected by this route: one at the beginning of the trail in the vicinity of the Horse Bridge, one in Indian Valley (he had purchased the Higgins homestead in 1889), and one in Lost Valley. On this excursion Dudley and Elmer collected plants at such places as Willow Creek, Zigzag Creek, the "head of Zigzag Creek at Oak Camp" (this is almost certainly what is now known as Tan Oak Camp, and perhaps the same locality as Elmer's "Black Oak Camp"), Higgins Cabin, "trail along Higgins Cr. to Lost Valley," Ocean Ridge, Indian Valley, Lost Valley and "Leigh's Mountain Valley" (Dudley may have been applying this name to what is now known as Strawberry Valley, and Elmer may have been doing the same in his use of "Little Valley"). One of Elmer's most noteworthy collection sites was along "Zigzag Creek near junction of trails," which suggest that the South Fork Trail was in existence at that time. By the first of July they had returned to Tassajara Hot Springs, where they collected a few more specimens before making their departure.

In 1902 William Dudley reported his observations on the extended distribution of Abies bracteata in an article that appeared in the May edition of Forestry & Irrigation, from which I have excerpted the following passages:

This remarkable representative of the Fir type of the Coniferae is confined to the western part of Monterey County, California, in a portion of those rough, scarcely explored ranges of government lands known as the Santa Lucia Mountains. When noticed at all by the local residents it is called the "Silver Fir" of "Silver Pine," and to distinguish it from the Silver Fir of the Sierras (Abies magnifica), with which some of the inhabitants confuse it, it should be called the "Santa Lucia Silver Fir"... It is like a fir only in the character of its erect cones on the upper fertile branches, and it surely has had a different line of descent from any other species of Abies. It is the only living representative of its type...

This paper intends to set forth briefly two important facts in connection with this species:

First. That its range, through the author's personal explorations during the past year, is much more extended and its members much greater than were before supposed.

...Second. That with this extension of its range over the mountain mass of the northern Santa Lucias, and the headwaters of several rivers, the species is seen to have an economic bearing on the question of protection of these river sources.

Concerning the rarity of this species and its distribution, as understood previous to this year, I cannot do better than to quote from Sargent's Silva, vol. xii (1898) [Sargent's statements were cited above].

Sargent then mentions four canyons near the Pacific, in the southern part of the county, where the species is known to occur. My knowledge of it in this part of the country corresponds substantially with this record. In other words, it was supposed by recent botanists to occur only at these four or five stations, about five miles from the ocean, over a region less than 25 miles in length. In this region too, it will be observed, that it was reported only from canyons.

From the explorations of the past year, in the much more extensive, rugged, and elevated masses of the northern Santa Lucias, it is found that its range may be extended for over 50 miles from north to south; that it occurs at least 18 miles eastward from the ocean [Dudley may have seen the Anastasia Canyon grove]; that its favorite habitat is crag, rocky ridge, and slope, although it occurs in canyons and along streams. Instead of growing at about 3,000 feet elevation, it ranges in this region, its true home, from 1,500 to over 5,000 feet above the sea.

Although not pertinent to this paper, I will refer to the fact, to be treated more fully elsewhere, that this extension of the range is in part a rediscovery of the locality of the species mentioned by Lobb in 1853, who refers to it as "growing on the highest peaks and most exposed places, in slate which to all appearances is incapable of supporting vegetation." Sargent, in commenting on the above, says: "Since Lobb's time, fire has probably destroyed all of the trees except those which were protected by moisture in the bottoms of the deepest canyons." As a matter of fact, although fire has ravaged these regions with unparalleled fury, the truer explanation of Lobb's puzzling passage would suggest that Lobb never saw the trees which modern botanists believed to be the only ones in existence; and strange as it may seem, the later did not know of the trees found by the former. Coulter, Lobb and Douglas all entered these mountains from Monterey, and undoubtedly saw the northwest portions of the area of their northern extension [as evidenced by the information presented in this article, Dudley was erroneous in making this assumption]. In regard to the relative numbers in the two sections, I should say that where the southern extension might number its trees by the hundreds, in the northern [extension] they might be numbered in the tens of thousands.

The writer feels confident of having completely outlined their area of distribution, and in so doing his ideas of their climatic and ecological affinities have changed. From the fact that they were found in the southern mountains, but little higher in the canyons than the redwoods, and were only a few miles from the ocean, he was led to infer that they belonged to the fog-belt of the coast ranges. It is now clear that they do not belong to that belt, and consequently not to those stream basins west of the westernmost coast range, but belong to the ranges next within, which have abundant precipitation, but are semi-arid in summer, and which give rise to streams whose flow, though often uncertain, is important to several towns and a rich valley- the Salinas- of this region...

Therefore, in closing, let me suggest certain conclusions which seem pertinent to me: If the Arroyo Seco is to have storage reservoirs, holding a water supply gathered by steep slopes, and consequently rapid drainage, the protection of the existing ligneous growth and the propagation of additional forest growth within this basin is the rational accompaniment of the engineering work.

Fire must be kept out, and I am satisfied that the Silver Fir would be one of the best species to encourage or to propagate over certain large, rocky tracts where few trees naturally grow...

Furthermore, the water supply from the Carmel River will soon become inadequate or inferior for the growing seaside towns on the Monterey Bay, if the same protection from fire is not accorded to the woods at the head of the stream.

In this protection of the Carmel and the Arroyo Seco, one of the most interesting conifers in the world, the Silver Fir of the Santa Lucias, would be cared for in its original home.

I was going to conclude this article with a discussion of the rather complicated history of the botanical names that have been applied to this species, but as the solstice is drawing near, I will only state that the proper name for this species is Abies bracteata (D. Don) ex Poiteau, and not A. b. (D. Don) Nuttall, as stated in my previous article.

Santa Lucia Fir, Abies Bracteata - distribution map


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Don, David.  1836.   Descriptions of Five New Species of the Genus Pinus, Discovered by Dr. Coulter in California.   Transactions of the Linnaean Society of London 17: 439-444.

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