And all the trees of the field...

Last Sunday five Californian Giant Redwood (sequoiadendron giganteum) seeds germinated on top of my refrigerator. The seeds were cold stratified (floated in cold water in the fridge) for 45 days before being placed in damp paper towel and sealed in a humidified ziplock plastic bag (on top of the fridge). Cold stratification increases the germination rate, but even so, I’m only expecting a germination rate of 20-30% of the original 50 seeds.

GerminationIn the last week six more seeds have germinated. I’ve planted each seed into a little sphagnum peat pot with the radicle (root) down but the top of the seed basically lying on the surface of the peat. When the original five seeds were planted last week they looked like rolled oats with little white tails. In the last week the radicle has turned from white to red, grown about 2cm, and in the last couple of days, has lifted the seed husk up into the air. I’m expecting the first leaves in the next week.

I stand in front of the kitchen window where the seeds are lined up in their pots along the sill (sometimes nearly buried under dirty dishes). The peat pots fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. The seeds, so small and delicate, originally manipulated with a pair of Emma’s tweezers. You could slice the life out of them with your fingernail. The first six years of life for a Giant Redwood is dicey, they’re prone to infections and parasites, they need to avoid accidents, they depend heavily on a favourable environment. But once they get growing, they do it with an intent and determination that one wonders whether they are gripped by a passion to sink their roots into the deep, beating heart of the world.

In the Converse Basin grove (Western Sierra Nevada, California) there are Giant Sequoia who are 3500 years old. They were seeds floating in a mountain stream when Moses was a bawling baby in the bulrushes. By volume, Giant Sequoia are the world’s largest trees. This translates into mountainous statistics: the tallest known example is 95m high; thickest bark: 3m; thickest branch: 4m diameter; trunk at chest height: 9m diameter. A mature Redwood will disperse 300,000-400,000 seeds from its 11,000 cones every year.
They cannot live on our window sill for very long.

I originally obtained the seeds at the start of the year ($3 on ebay) from a supplier who sourced them near Mt Macedon in Victoria. There are some very impressive Redwood specimens in botanic gardens in Victoria. The Ballarat Botanical Gardens contains some 150 year old trees. This is remarkable considering that the first scientific observation of the trees in California only occurred in the 1850s, the first cultivation in 1853. Redwoods were quickly taken up by the great designers of the high Victorian (era) of landscaping who spread them around the globe. I was initially inspired to try growing Redwoods by seeing the beautiful trees in the Wombat Hill gardens in Daylesford. There is also a lovely stand of conifers, including Redwoods, at Mt Tomah botanic gardens (Blue Mountains, near Lithgow). Ironically, wild specimens are now confined to a few protected groves within their original range.

Needless to say, the little Redwoods growing on my window sill can’t live there for very long. Assuming they get a taste for growing, eventually we’ll be able to fit our whole kitchen inside one trunk. They will tower over us, 10 times taller than our house. I’ll keep them in pots for a couple of years and then plant them out on our property in Crookwell. I think they’ll like it there, perfect conditions for Redwoods. One day their roots will anchor that town, their crowns will mark it out from a distance as someone’s home.

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