A Tale of Two Giant Trees at Sequoia National Park and Muir Woods National Monument

In one day in central California I managed to see both the largest tree species on earth and the tallest tree species on earth.  The largest trees are the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Cupressaceae), and these mammoths are most easily visible in large numbers in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park:

Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park, California.

Sequoias never stop growing, and in the right conditions they can live to well over 3000 years of age.  The western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains provide the ideal combination of fertile soil, warmth, and rainfall for their growth.

Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park, California.

These beasts blanket the landscape, seeming as common as eastern cottonwoods are here in southeast Michigan.  Even the younger trees dwarf the biggest trees near my home:

Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park, California. Friend Jim for scale.

I took advantage of a particularly large sequoia to justify a reputation of being a tree-hugger:

The author with a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park, California.

Even as big as that sequoia was, it paled it comparison to General Sherman, the largest tree on earth in terms of trunk volume:

The author with General Sherman, a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Cupressaceae) that is the largest tree on earth. Photographed 08/13/2011 in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park, California.

This beauty is 36.5 feet (over 11m) at the base, and almost 275 feet (almost 84m) tall, containing over 52,500 cubic feet (1487 cubic meters) of wood.

General Sherman, a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Cupressaceae) that is the largest tree on earth. Photographed 08/13/2011 in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park, California.

As huge as these trees are, they are by far from the tallest.  That distinction belongs to the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae).  After driving about four hours northwest from Sequoia, I got to see many of these trees at Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco:

Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 at Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco.

Mature coast redwoods regularly exceed 300 feet in height and approach 2200 years of age.  The tallest known tree on earth, Hyperion, is just shy of 380 feet (116 meters).  That tree is located at Redwood National Park farther up the coast.  The redwoods at Muir Woods fall short of that record, but are still taller than the giant sequoias to the east.

Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 at Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco.

Although the trunk diameters of coast redwoods are far less than those of giant sequoias, they’re still impressive:

Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 at Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco. Unknown Hominid for scale.

Coast redwoods seem to have fuller crowns than giant sequoias and grow more densely, making for a more striking canopy:

Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 at Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco.

The setting sun also created some amazing scenes in the forest:

Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae) photographed 08/13/2011 at Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco.

One could conceivably make it from Sequoia National Park to Redwood National Park and see both the biggest (General Sherman) and tallest (Hyperion) trees in one day.  At this point, however, the location of Hyperion hasn’t been disclosed to the public for fear of ecological damage to the sensitive and remote area where it is located.  Despite that there are still much taller redwoods to see at Redwood versus Muir Woods.  With the time allotted, I had to settle for the mere shrubs shown above.  Redwood will have to wait until I can visit the Pacific Northwest.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, National Parks and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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