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Letter to Asa Gray, January 13, 1878

by John Muir

Taylor Street San Francisco Jan 13th '78

My Dear Prof' Gray, I had intended writing you concerning the forests we passed through after parting, but the exploration of the Middle Fork Canyon of Kings River prevented me. We travelled through more than 150 miles of yellow pine, and though I had already made up my mind concerning its varieties, our Shasta discussions provoked fresh interests and I accordingly reviewed the whole question. In many places the most widely varied forms were found growing together and I examined several hundred of them with the utmost care. Nothing within the range of these observations point to the Jeffrey form as a distinct species. On the contrary, my former views regarding it, of which you have already heard enough, or more than enough, are outdated.

Nowhere within the limits of California are the forests of the Yellow Pine so extensive or exclusive as on the headwaters of the Pitt River. They cover the mountains and all the lower slopes bordering the wide open valleys that abound here, pressing forward in imposing ranks, seemingly hardiest and most firmly established of all the . . . . . . ?:????

Here the variety of the Jeffrey reaches its greatest distance from the Sierra form of Ponderosa and at the foot of the mountains along the edges and sage plains and volcanic tablelands the two are frequently found together. I find difficulty in determining the trend of the Darwin grade in this species - in discriminating between head and tail. Which is older? Jeffrey or Ponderosa? That they are forms of one species I have no doubt, but which is the variety? How long Jeffrey has been established upon these volcanic tablelands I cannot tell, but the ground they now occupy was certainly bare and warm , while yet those portions of the mountains now occupied by Ponderosa were covered with ice. It therefore occurs to me that what I have been regarding as the outgoing variety, may really be the more ancient form of the species.

The foliage of Jeffrey is grayer and longer, and the branches are thicker and much less divided and more upturned at the tips. I gathered cones 6 and a half inches long, 4 and a half inches diameter, rounded in outline, dark purple. Needles of the same tree 9 inches long, average about 8. The needles of Ponderosa about 5 inches. The most easterly limit of the species, far as I have found, is the Wasatch mountains. I noticed a few in a canon 15 or 20 miles Northeast of . . . . . . . . ???

[ NOTE: 2 bottom lines unreadable on photocopy as are two edge lines.]

Source: Kew Gardens archives, London, England; transcribed by Graham White

Acquired November 11, 1999

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