Giant Sequoia – A Gentle Goliath

On our first Tree ID foray into Plantation Wood Phil and I happen upon a Wellingtonia, or Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron gigantum. The vast tree tilts skyward, and my fingers push into the thick shaggy burgundy fibres of the bark. Normally they grow about 50m tall, but in their native valley of Sierra Nevada in California, they can grow up to 90m tall. The tallest Giant Sequoia, ‘Hyperion’ is 112m tall, whilst the widest is General Sherman at a diameter of 7.7m. General Sherman weighs as much as 400 elephants – that’s about 200,000 tonnes!

The mighty Redwood is slightly conical in shape. It is the tallest tree in many areas of Britain and was often planted by rich landowners to show off how wealthy they were.

So how did the Wellingtonia come to our shores?

An English plant hunter named William Lobb raced back to England in 1833 with Giant Sequoia seeds,and beat his American counterpart Dr Kellogg to name the tree after the Duke of Wellington. Otherwise it would have been called ‘Washingtonia’ after America’s first President!

The Giant Sequoia was once an endangered species due to climate change and logging, plus it is not tolerant of pollution. What saved it was partly the fact its wood is not actually that durable compared to other trees, and it was tough going cutting them down. Imagine sawing through a trunk with a girth that could fit 40 people and a grand piano, and you’ll understand what I mean.

So why does Wellingtonia love being burned to a crisp?

Here are its cones.

The Giant Sequoia needs fire to open its cones and germinate its seeds. Every so often wild fire will race through the Redwood groves of places like Kings Canyon National Park, and the burning Sequoia cones open like magic boxes, spilling seeds onto the newly cleared forest floor. There they can grow with the competition for light and nutrients eradicated by the fires.

Clever huh!

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