Forest 33 - Giant Sequoia


Sequoiadendron giganteum

Sequoiadendron giganteum tree in Yosemite National Park, USA. Photo not from the Arboretum Sequoiadendron giganteum trees in Yosemite National Park. Photo not from the Arboretum

Other common names

Sierra redwood, Sierran redwood, Wellingtonia. Indigenous: Wawona, Toos-pung-ish, Hea-mi-withic

Origin of the species name

Sequoiadendron is named after Sequoya, a Cherokee chief. It was distinguished from Sequoia by adding Greek for tree (dendron); giganteum is from the Greek word gigas meaning giant, and refers to the great size of the tree.

Family

Cupressaceae

Date planted

April 2008

Lifespan

Trees of this species can be very long lived with several trees in the wild thought to be over 3000 years old.

Sequoiadendron giganteum whole tree. Photo not from the Arboretum, by Tyberonn

General description 

This is a very large, long-lived (3500 years and still living), evergreen conifer with a straight, erect often buttressed trunk. Its branches are drooping, bearing short needle-like leaves. Seed cones may remain green on the tree for up to 20 years. Height 50m Spread 20m.

Natural distribution and habitat  

The species is native to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA where it is usually found on mountain slopes at 1,400-2,000m, on granitic-based residual and alluvial soils in a climate that has dry summers and snowy winters.

Conservation status

Although nearly all of the wild populations are protected, the rate of decline that was caused by logging in earlier times has resulted in it still being considered a vulnerable species in the wild. Although the bark of the giant sequoia has a high resistance to fire, because it is thick and non-resinous, fire remains a significant threat to young trees.

Planting pattern

Trees are planted in long and short curved rows, with variable spacing.

Uses

The wood is highly resistant to decay, but is brittle and fibrous and generally unsuitable for use. Many trees were logged between 1880 and 1920 but would often shatter when they hit the ground. It is estimated that only about 50 percent of the timber made it from the forest to the mill. The wood available was mainly used for construction, shingles and fence posts, with it going into many of the larger houses in San Francisco and the Bay area. The massive trees are a focal point for tourists visiting the natural range of the species.

Further reading

Farjon, A (2010) A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Brill.