A recent excursion put me, my sister Kate, and our cousin Joe amid the Jeffrey pines in Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness.
Jeffrey pines are enormous trees with deeply grooved plates of bark that smell like vanilla. A Jeffrey can surpass the height of 150 feet, the trunk can be five feet in diameter, and the tree will live 500 years.
Before going up to nearly 9,000 feet above sea level on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, I pulled one of my treasures off the bookshelf: Trees of the Great Basin: A Natural History, by Ronald M. Lanner. Although I don’t live in the Great Basin, much of Lanner’s book applies to California.
Mine is a review copy received from the University of Nevada Press upon publication in 1984. I’m always touched by the book’s beauty–not only the way it’s written but also the design and drawings by Christine Rasmuss.
The pages are beautiful, with type in Goudy Old Style on Mohawk Superfine paper. The product description on Mohawk’s site says, “Superfine inspires great design with its superb formation, lush tactility, archival quality and timeless appeal.”
I hadn’t noticed the lush tactility until now, but it will henceforth be impossible to get out of mind.
On Amazon, the highest asking price for Trees of the Great Basin is $167.10. Original price was $19.50. Not that I’d sell, but my copy is in average condition with no markings on the pages and a so-so cover. The paper has held up admirably.
The most interesting thing I learned in rereading the chapter on the Jeffrey pine–“another great, long-needled, yellow pine of the American West,” as Lanner puts it–is that it’s very closely related to the Ponderosa. But there are key differences in the color and stiffness of the needles, the color and fragrance of the bark, and the elevation of the preferred habitat.
Another important difference was discovered in the 19th century by those who tried to produce turpentine. Ponderosas yield an oleoresin that’s heavy on the terpenes. These are common in essential oils.
Jeffrey pines secrete normal heptane, a potent hydrocarbon.
“Normal heptane is highly explosive,” Lanner writes, “and back in the Civil War era, when turpentine was being distilled from Ponderosa pitch, one distiller learned the hard way about the disadvantages of confusing the identification of these yellow pine species. Occasional explosions continued into this century.”
At least the wood of the two species is similar.
Factoids like that are another reason I’ve treasured the book for 34 years.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading off into the junipers.