Wellingtonia on High Close tree trail
One particular individual of this species holds the record for being the world’s largest tree. The ‘General Sherman’ in the Sequoia National Park, California may not be the tallest tree, but with a trunk circumference of 31m (103ft) and a height of 84m (275ft) it’s shear volume is staggering. And at an estimated 3,200 years old it’s not doing too badly either.
How the Wellingtonia got its name
The name Wellingtonia is often used in the UK to describe this species of Sequoia, though this has fallen out of use around the rest of the world. In somewhat of a Victorian scandal, the species was named Wellingtonia gigantea in 1852 in honour of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington who had died the previous year. John Lindley, professor of botany at University of London had received the botanical samples from William Lobb, a plant collector who had been travelling the US for new species to discover.
The publication of the formal species description was deliberately pushed through to prevent an American scientist Albert Kellogg, from announcing the discovery and claiming the rights to name the tree. Kellogg had planned to honour the first US president with naming the Californian species Washingtonia gigantea, but was waiting for better botanical samples. Kellogg made the mistake of informing Lobb about the tree and then lost his chance.
In another twist, the Wellingtonia genus had already been used to name an unrelated species and couldn’t be used again. So after all that the tree was renamed Sequoiadendron giganteum, and they both missed out.