National Geographic - GIANT SEQUOIAS
The World's Largest Trees - FREE Feature Download
A tree-climbing scientist and his team have learned surprising new facts about giant sequoias by measuring them inch by inch.
On a gentle slope above a trail junction in Sequoia National Park, about 7,000 feet above sea level in the southern Sierra Nevada, looms a very big tree. Its trunk is rusty red, thickened with deep layers of furrowed bark, and 27 feet in diameter at the base. Its footprint would cover your dining room. Trying to glimpse its tippy top, or craning to see the shape of its crown, could give you a sore neck. That is, this tree is so big you can scarcely look at it all. It has a name, the President, bestowed about 90 years ago by admiring humans. It’s a giant sequoia, a member of Sequoiadendron giganteum, one of several surviving species of redwoods.
It’s not quite the largest tree on Earth. It’s the second largest. Recent research by scientist Steve Sillett of Humboldt State University and his colleagues has confirmed that the President ranks number two among all big trees that have ever been measured–and Sillett’s team has measured quite a few. It doesn’t stand so tall as the tallest of coast redwoods or of Eucalyptus regnans in Australia, but height isn’t everything; it’s far more massive than any coast redwood or eucalypt. Its dead spire, blasted by lightning, rises to 247 feet. Its four great limbs, each as big as a sizable tree, elbow outward from the trunk around halfway up, billowing into a thick crown like a mushroom cloud flattening against the sky. Although its trunk isn’t quite so bulky as that of the largest giant, the General Sherman, its crown is fuller than the Sherman’s. The President holds nearly two billion leaves.
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David Quammen’s new book, Spillover, is about zoonotic diseases. Michael Nichols photographed California’s giant redwoods for the October 2009 issue.
Society Grant This project was funded in part by your National Geographic Society membership.
We thank Sequoia National Park for its generous cooperation in the production of this article.