In the mid-nineteenth century, at the height of both the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the California Gold Rush in America, a number of English botanists, plant hunters and seed collectors travelled to the northwest of North America, not in search of gold, but in pursuit of other treasures; 'exotic' species of plants which would thrive in a similar climate to that of the British Isles. Amongst their finds, one of the most popular and successful was the Sequoia - the 'Giant Redwood', also dubbed the Wellingtonia gigantea (after the celebrated general, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who died in 1852) - and sacks full of seeds we shipped in bulk back to England, where they were reared and cultivated in vast nurseries. The seedlings were then sold on to the landed gentry at great expense, and planted throughout the United Kingdom in the estates, gardens, parks and arboretums of the aristocracy as symbols of wealth, status and imperial dominance.
Over the course of the last century and a half, as America's empire rose and the British aristocracy collapsed (with many of their estates being sold off to housing developers, land trusts and public councils), these saplings flourished into fully grown trees; in fact, this particular species grew faster and fuller in Britain's comparatively mild climate than in the American Northwest. Today, mature and towering, these coniferous behemoths awkwardly loom over the British landscape, their scale and stature at odds with the indigenous flora of the region. Like dark steeples piercing the horizon, they act as subtle reminders of the fertile imperialism of Britain, the aggressive ascendancy of America, and ultimately testify to the rise and fall of contemporary empire.

For more information, please visit: 'On Redwoods, Spaghetti Westerns, and Other American Myths - An Interview With Aaron Schuman'


"Redwoods (England)"
Aaron Schuman Photography

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