Sequoia National Park

The Sequoia tree named General Sherman is mammoth beauty.  It is not the tallest or the widest, but this Giant Sequoia is Earth’s largest living organism in sheer volume of total wood.  Its nearly conical trunk, which remains thick high into the branches, shows why.  On the entire planet, sequoias grow naturally only in some 75 groves on the Sierra Nevada’s western slopes.  The ages of General Sherman, General Grant, and other mature sequoias are unknown, but the estimate is that these giants are between 1,800 and 2,700 years old.  They were around at the time of Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Genghis Khan; they have seen civilizations come and go, survived countless fires and periods of drought, and through it all, continue to flourish and inspire many generations of admirers.

Where do the Sequoias grow?

Giant Sequoias thrive in specific climate requirements that only occur in a narrow 260-mile strip of forest on the Sierra Nevada mountains’ western slopes.  They grow only at a particular elevation and temperature.  Above 7,500 feet (2,290 m), it is usually too cold for the tree.  Below 5,000 feet (1,520 m), it is too dry.  The result is a narrow belt where the temperature and water conditions are right for these big trees – The Sequoia Belt.

What is the size of a Giant Sequoia?

The largest of the Sequoias are as tall as a 26-story building (400 feet or 122 m), and their diameters at the base can exceed three lanes of a highway.  As they continue to grow, they produce about 40 cubic feet of wood each year, approximately equal to the volume of a 50-foot-tall tree, one foot in diameter.

What so special about Sequoia’s bark (the outermost layers of the tree)?

Upon touching the beautiful red-brown trunk of the Sequoia, I was surprised to discover how soft and elastic the surface feels.  Apparently, the bark of a Giant Sequoia measures over two feet thick at the base.  This formidable exterior provides the Sequoias with protection from fires as it slows flames from reaching the wood inside. 

What so special about Sequoia’s roots?

The Sequoias’ root system does not extend into the ground more than 7 feet (2 m), but sometimes a single root may grow out near the surface for as much as 200-300 feet (60-90 m) towards the water.  Amazingly, the shallow and relatively small root system can support such vast bulk against the centuries’ storms.

How do fires help the Sequoia?

Sequoia forests need fires to thrive.  Before the 1960s, all fires were quickly suppressed, and Sequoia reproduction virtually stopped.  Environmental studies demonstrated that without the effects of fire, the Giant Forest could not grow new sequoias and endure, so forest management practices have changed to include Prescribed Burns.  Fires can kill some Sequoias, but they are also a requirement for the endurance of the immense tree forests for the following reasons:The heat opens Sequoia cones, and seeds that have been inside for up to 20 years rain down

  • Fires help seeds to germinate by clearing the forest floor, and the ash fertilizes the soil
  • Heat kills insects and fungus that attack seedings
  • Trees that compete for the seedlings sunlight, moisture, and nutrients are destroyed
  • Once burned, an area is less flammable for several years, giving seedlings a good start