Imagine a large tree. Now imagine a much larger tree. That is how the giant sequoia do.
No, let’s try this again. Imagine a large tree. Now imagine this tree as a branch, not a tree, attached to another much larger tree. Now imagine that much larger tree. That is how the giant sequoia do. Three decades ago, a branch fell off one of the largest giant sequoia. It was 43m long.
Last try: imagine a boy. He grew up in the desert, is 4 years old, has never seen a tree, but was once told how a tree looks like. If this kid were God, he would make trees that look like the giant sequoia … humongous, totally out of proportion, and rather silly looking.
The giant sequoia is named after a Mr Sequoyah (1767–1843), the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary. Giant sequoia are really big trees, in fact the very largest trees on Earth if volume is what you are counting. As a giant sequoia was once overheard telling his friend – a very tall Redwood Tree: “It’s volume bro, not length, that really matters”. Redwoods are called Sequoioideae, in case you were wondering. Giant sequoia are also the largest living thing on the planet in general; they categorically refuse to be friends with whales, otherwise I am sure there would have been some friendly banter recorded as well.
Imagine the mass of the little boy we talked about above. Now imagine him 200,000 times more. That is how much a giant sequoia can weigh. The average height of the trees is between 50 and 85 m, and the trunk has an average diameter of about 6 – 8 m. The fattest giant sequoia, the “Waterfall Tree,” has a circumference of 47 m at ground level, with a base diameter of 21 m. The “Arm Tree” has a branch with a diameter of nearly 4 m (thicker than most trees). Giant sequoia kick ass.
Giant sequoia can also get quite old. The oldest one we know is about 3,500 years old, meaning it was just about in its midlife crisis when Jesus told people to be nice to each other. Giant sequoia leaves are evergreen, and since the trees get so old, they are patient: their cones often mature for up to 20 years before they spread the seeds.
Not surprisingly, giant sequoia are too large to create sufficient osmotic pressure to transport water all the way to the top, so a long time ago, one of them invented air roots to fix this problem. What are air roots, you ask? Think of them as giant straws, and think about fog as an incredibly tasty soda.
Even when dead, giant sequoia are still badasses. There is a log in the Sequoia National Park called “Auto Log” — a tree that toppled about a century ago. Once, if you were so inclined, you could have driven your car on it and taken pictures: but just a few years ago, they thought the trunk may have finally become a little bit too brittle for this. This, after a century. Including about three decades of people driving thousands of cars on it every year.
The boss of the giant sequoia is called “General Sherman”, and he lives in the Sequoia National Park in California. The national park is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the only area in the world where giant sequoia live, between 1.5 – 2.5 km above sea level. It makes sense their leader lives there as well, so that he can commandeer them around much easier. General Sherman is an adult tree, but not old my any means: he is just 2500 years old.
The General is the largest living tree on Earth, as far as we know, which makes him the largest living thing, really. He is, in other words, worthy of being the giant sequoia leader! Here are his stats:
Height: 83.8 meters (275 ft)
Diameter: 7.7 m (25 ft)
Volume: 1,487 m3 (52,513 cu ft)
Circumference at ground: 31.3 m (102.6 ft)
Weight: 2000 tons (estimated in 1938)
Branches: up to 43 m (140 ft) long
Hit Dice: 40
Giant sequoia seem to be most accommodating. They often have branches starting only in the upper 40% of their trunks, so the forests in which they stand are full of warm sunlight that passes through. Turns out their seeds only grow in full sunlight, so little giant sequoia trees need that space to become not so little giant sequoia trees. Seems less accomodating now I guess … but they do take good care of their kids.
If you look a little bit more closely, the trees can be quite naughty, and they make out all the time. Let me explain. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, there is often only very little soil on the rocks. Therefore, despite being so incredibly tall and heavy, giant sequoia roots only dig into the soil for up to a meter — and about the only way a giant sequoia can die is by toppling. To avoid that terrible fate, a giant sequoia spreads its roots very far into all distances, often intertwining them with the roots of other trees! Naughty business.
The giant sequoia have an interesting relationship with fire, and every year dozens of concerned forest animals and other trees call the police because they suspect a giant sequoia is trying to burn down the forest again. Giant sequoia need forest fires, it’s part of the natural habitat, and they are very well adapted to it.
During a fire, giant sequoia go mostly unscathed, because they have a bark that is up to 1 m thick and fireproof. The same thing cannot be said for most other things in the forest that will die. Interestingly, forest fires will create a lot of heat, which will dry the cones that have been patiently hanging from the tree for years, which in turn will release the seeds. Now, on the ground all the little trees and bushes that love shade will be dead, and the fire created perfect conditions for little giant sequoia to grow with loads of space and sunlight! And kids, this is the reason why rangers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains start forest fires now and then (note: this is actually true). It is to take good care of the giant sequoia.
Because, again, the giant sequoia are totally badass.