Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sequoiadendron giganteum...Who named it first?

"Hermit and Burnt Tree" from Calisphere.

The "Big Tree" has had many names and there is much interesting controversy over how it was named and claimed. This is but one of many articles that I have found in google books and Internet Archive and other archives.

What I have read elsewhere is that the English scooped the Californians in describing the tree now known as Sequoiadenron giganteum. To the Americans it must have seemed very nervy and audacious when Dr. Lindley named our great tree after one of the English military greats, the Duke of Wellington. How much sense did that make? Apparently it's ok if you are the first one out of the gate. But not surprisingly there was a bit of fallout and controversy. And as you know, it didn't stick, except in the U.K. where you can still see signs for the "Wellingtonia".
If you check the Plant List for Wellingtonia, all names lead to Sequoiadendron giganteum.

A Wellingtonia in Benmore Botanic Garden
From the fantastic Monumental Trees website
where you can find Big Trees in Europe.
So here is a full article in the midst of this controversy. To have all of these original articles at our fingertips is really quite awesome. History never had this much color!

You can click on the title link to see the actual journal. Where I have found the articles referenced by this article I have provided links to those other articles. I've also linked the wikipedia articles on the botanists mentioned in the article. What fun it must have been to have observed this first hand!

Proceedings of the 

Regular Meeting December 16th 1867 Vice President Ransom in the Chair 

pp 399-401

Mr Bloomer read the following 

On the Scientific Name of the "Big Trees" 


Early in 1853, specimens of the "Big Trees" were presented to this Academy; Dr Kellogg and other botanists, members of the Academy, at once pronounced them to belong to the
genus to Taxodium, which the common “Redwood" of California was referred at that time. Endlicher's work upon the Coniferae in which the genus Sequoia (named after an Indian Chief) was instituted, had not at that time reached us. Our California Redwood, Taxodium sempervirens was included in the new genus of Endlicher. So then, the true scientific position of the Big Trees was first determined by members of the California Academy of Natural Sciences. At the time of the presentation of these specimens, an English collector of plants and seeds, Mr William Lobb, saw them, and having experience enough to know that they belonged to a species new to the gardeners immediately started for the grove and obtained cones wood and foliage, which he carried with him to England in the fall of 1853. Dr Lindley hastily described these as Wellingtonia gigantea in the Gardener's Chronicle for December 1853

In the meantime Drs Kellogg and Behr pursued their studies of the great tree, and at length being convinced that there was no generic difference between it and the Taxodium sempervirens (now Sequoia sempervirens) instituted the species Taxodium giganteum, described in the Proceedings of the Cal. Acad. Nat. Sciences, May 7th, 1855, Vol. I, page 53

Previous to this, however, Seemann in Bonplandia, 3, p. 27, January 15th, 1855, described it under the term of Sequoia Wellingtonia. Mr Seemann gives his reasons at length in the Magazine of Natural History, 3d Series, Vol. 3 p. 164 for discarding the genus Wellingtonia of Lindley, and says: "Dr Torrey was undoubtedly the first who determined the true systematic position of the tree." Now this is an error for Dr Torrey's publication is dated in August 1855; whereas Drs. Kellogg and Behr's appeared May 7th 1855. 

The principal thing to be determined in this matter now is as to the name and author, for these must accompany each other; shall it be:

Sequoia gigantea Endlicher May 1847;
Wellingtonia gigantea Lindley December 1853; 
Sequoia Wellingtonia Seemann January 15th 1855; 
Taxodium giganteum Kellogg and Behr May 7th 1855; or 
Sequoia gigantea Torrey August 1855 

There are a number of other names made use of and referred to by Seemann, Murray and others; but as they come to us without the least scientific authority, they ought not to be considered. 

Dr Lindley's genus falls to the ground almost by common consent. I will refer here to a communication from Prof. Brewer, late of the geological survey of this State. Before he left San Francisco, he sent Dr. W.J. Hooker one of the large photographs of the "Grizzly Giant”, one of the big trees in the Mariposa grove; he had written to Prof. Brewer asking about "the Wellingtonia, Washingtonia, I care not what you call it." In Prof. Brewer's answer, he told him that he (the Prof.) did care what he called it, and also that it was not a new genus, but a Sequoia. Dr. Hooker in his answer to this, says: "I heartily agree with you in all you say about the big tree; it has now produced good fruit in our gardens, and is as true a Sequoia as can be, and should have no other name." So here we have high authority for discarding Lindley's Wellingtonia. Yet this only settles the question as to the generic term; Dr. Hooker's opinion thus far has only given us Sequoia. 

The next claimant in point of priority is Dr Seemann who rightly refers it to Sequoia, and adds the specific term Wellingtonia giving sufficient reasons for discarding Endlicher's specific term gigantea, as that was shown by Hooker to be founded upon Abies (Picea) bracteata. 

In recent publications of American botanists, we find the term Sequoia gigantea of Torrey used to designate the species; to show that this is not the true nomenclature, I need but to say that Dr Torrey never described it at all in any book or proceedings. The reference is to the American Journal of Science and Art, Vol. 18, p. 286, August 1855, where it says: “Dr. Torrey made to the American Association for the Advancement of Science a communication in reference to the Big Tree of California:" also Vol. 17, p. 443, but no description. Now here is no sufficient ground for Dr Torrey's Sequoia gigantea, for there is absolutely no description at all but a mere reference and this reference is published three months after Drs. Kellogg and Behr have described the tree as Taxodium giganteum. 

I think now that Endlicher’s, Lindley’s, and Torrey's claims have been refuted; the controversy is narrowed down as between Seemann and Drs. Kellogg and Behr. By strict usage and without the usual courtesy of scientific men the nomenclature of the "Big Tree" should be Sequoia Wellingtonia of Seemann. But if courtesy is to be shown at all, it should be to those students who are entitled to it; that Drs. Kellogg and Behr are justly entitled to this honor I cannot for one moment doubt. Specimens of this gigantic tree were in their possession many months before any other botanist had directed his attention to the subject; studying indeed under every disadvantage for our botanical literature at that time was very meagre, not even Endlicher's work on the Coniferae, in which was to be found the then newly instituted Sequoia, to which was referred our common Taxodium sempervirens of Lambert, being available. Had they access to this work they would have given us Sequoia gigantic  mark that this was three months before Torrey's reference. 

They therefore are in truth and reality, if not technically, the first scientific discoverers of the true position of the great tree. The terms they used were Taxodium giganteum, meaning by this that it was a congener with Taxodium sempervirens, which it was. 

If Seemann's technical claims are set aside, then by courtesy Sequoia gigantea Kellogg and Behr, ought to be written as the true name of the "Big Tree”. For the advancement of science we hope the final closing of this and other questions pertaining to the Coniferae of this coast will be left to the able monographer of this order, Dr. George Engelmann, of St Louis who is now in Europe, having the notes and observations of recent botanists, and who will there have access to all the literature and material necessary to establish scientific accuracy and unity in this important family of plants.

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