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The biggest sugar pine.

For several minutes on a dreary October day in 1826, the scientific discovery of the world's largest species of pine--not to mention the life of one David Douglas--hung in the balance. Eight Umpqua Indians in war paint and armed to the teeth didn't buy the young botanist's story that he was only shooting pine cones out of the trees for science and posterity.

Douglas didn't like the odds, but he liked failure even less. After five weeks in the Oregon wilderness, he had finally found the trees that matched the description given him by an Indian in whose tobacco pouch he had seen the unfamiliar seeds. Prefering diplomacy to whatever the warriors had in mind, Douglas offered tobacco if they would collect more cones for him. As soon as they were out of sight, he picked up three cones he had felled and escaped with both his life and the scientific worlds's first specimen of sugar pine.

Today's National Champion sugar pine, although somewhat smaller than the 18-foot-thick tree Douglas reported, is huged by any standard. It was discovered near the North Fork of the Stanislau River in the Sierra Nevada in 1967.

Called the "Queen of the Sierras" by John Muir, the sugar pine gets its name from its sweet resin, which Muir found preferable to maple sugar. On average, the sugar is the world's largest cones--some reaching 26 inches in length and weighing four pounds when green. Squirrels fell the cones from the high branches for winter storage.

In sugar-pine country today, you won't have to bargain for your life with the natives, but do be careful when the squirrels are out.
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Author:Bronaugh, Whit
Publication:American Forests
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Words:274
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