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The sequoia: record holder of the trees

They are the largest trees in the world, grow over 100 meters high and live to be more than 1,500 years old - the sequoias in the northwestern United States. GEOlino reports on the history and survival of the giant trees, shows you where to find the remains from prehistoric times and what dangers they are threatened by humans.

The sequoia tree: state tree of the USA

The sequoias of North America are the tallest and oldest trees in the world. They were once much more common, but were ruthlessly cut down by the thousands during the time of the great gold rush.

Today there are only small remnants that are protected in national parks. It is thanks to the massive efforts of environmentalists that the trees were saved. The writer John Muir managed to set up three nature reserves in California in 1890.

The gigantic redwood trees are located in the Muir Woods named after him, a wooded area north of San Francisco. They can reach a height of 110 meters, which is roughly comparable to a 25-story skyscraper.

Where do sequoias grow?

Most of the sequoia trees are in California's Sierra Nevada or on the coast between Los Angeles and Seattle. There is enough water and a mild climate - ideal conditions to shoot up so tremendously. The frequently occurring coastal fog also plays an important role in the water balance of the trees.

Sequoias reproduce from the seeds in their cones. The up to 20,000 seeds sometimes remain on the trees for two years and need strong storms or even fires to reach the forest floor. Your most common obstetrician is the Douglas squirrel, which likes to eat the seeds from the cones. Some of the seeds, which are only a few millimeters in size, also fall to the ground.

Record sequoia trees in the US

In the Yosemite National Park in California lies the Mariposa Grove, an approximately one square kilometer large forest with sequoia trees.

In the Mariposa Grove you will find the 2700 year old "Grizzly Giant". The tree impresses with a height of 64 meters and a circumference of 30 meters. Its first branch alone is almost two meters in diameter. The huge pines that stand around him, on the other hand, look like thin sticks.

In the upper part of the Mariposa Grove is the world famous "Wawona Tree". In 1881 a tunnel was bored through its trunk and a road ran through it. Unfortunately, it collapsed in 1969 under snow.

The tallest tree in the world, the 112-meter tall "Tall Tree", is a coastal redwood tree in California's Redwood National Park. For comparison: the towers of the Frauenkirche in Munich are 99m high, the cathedral in Berlin is 110m high.

The thickest tree in the world is "General Sherman", a giant sequoia. It stands in Sequoia National Park and has a circumference of 31 meters.

How old does a sequoia get?

The information about the age of the trees varies. The oldest sequoia trees are said to be as old as the Egyptian pyramids, i.e. over 3000 years. An exact count of the annual rings gives "only" 1500 years, but even that is extremely astonishing. Today's trees are on average 700-900 years old. However, it has been proven that individual specimens are up to 2000 years old.

At the entrance to Mariposa Grove there is a disc that was cut from the trunk of a sequoia tree. In order to give an impression of its longevity, the annual rings were assigned to significant historical events.

  • 909 assumed year of birth of the tree
  • 1325 The Aztecs build Tenochititlan
  • 1492 Columbus arrives in America
  • 1776 Declaration of Independence
  • 1908 Muir Woods becomes a national park
  • 1930 fall of the tree

Sequoia species

  • Coastal sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens)

The coastal sequoia is the most common species of sequoia. The Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) on the hazy Pacific coast of Northern California are significantly slimmer than their conspecifics in the Sierra Nevada, but they are not as big and as old as the giant sequoia. The largest specimen has a trunk circumference of 5.5 m and the oldest known sequoia is 2000 years old.

  • Giant sequoie (Sequoiadendron giganteum)

The redwood trees on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in America are lower but much sturdier than their counterparts on the Pacific coast. The evergreen conifers belong to the bald cypress family and reach heights of 100 to 120 meters with a circumference of up to 30 meters.

In terms of mass and size, giant sequoia are even the largest living beings on our planet. In addition, giant sequoia have a long life expectancy: The sequoia trees of this species can live as many as 4,000 years old.

  • Dawn sequoia (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

Chinese botanists in Hu-Peh also found a third species of sequoia in 1941: the dawn sequoia (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). This sequoia species has its origin in central China and is much smaller than the other tree species. The Dawn sequoia can grow up to twelve meters high and reach a trunk circumference of almost two meters. It is also the only species of sequoia that is a deciduous tree.

The name

The name Sequoia is derived from a native dialect. It was not officially introduced into science until 1847 and was chosen in honor of the Indian Sequoyah. The son of a Cherokee Indian and a British immigrant is of particular importance to the Iroquois because he developed a writing system for Cherokee, with which books and newspapers can be published on Cherokee.

History of the sequoia tree

Between 65 and 110 million years ago the giant trees were widespread and the sequoia forests covered much of the earth. Animal contemporaries of the sequoia trees were huge carnivorous and herbivorous pterosaurs and ichthyosaurs. These reptiles ruled the world for around 150 million years.

The discovery

The first European to report on the gigantic California trees was a reporter named Giovanni Crespi. He saw the plants on a Spanish expedition from Mexico to California that he was accompanying in 1769. About 20 years later, the botanist Haenke traveled to California and brought the first sequoias to Europe.

Refractory sequoia bark

The largest organisms in the world owe their enormous longevity mainly to their refractory bark, which is up to 70 centimeters thick, because forest fires are not uncommon in California in summer and autumn. When it is hot, the bark secretes a liquid that covers the outer skin to protect it.

It is amazingly regenerative and very soft - it doesn't hurt at all when you hit it. With its high tannic acid content, it not only protects the tree from fire, but also from vermin such as termites and other insects - and even from fungi. This makes the Sequoias almost resistant to enemies of all kinds.

Healthy fire baths and threats to the giants

Sequoia trees are resistant to occasional fires and such fires even serve an ecological purpose: They thin out the undergrowth and provide fertile ash - this creates space for new life. Some of the trees only open their seed pods in this extreme heat.

But the months of raging big fires of the past few years posed a real threat to the remnants from prehistoric times. Every year in the USA up to 1,500 firefighters fight against the several kilometers wide fire walls of the late summer forest fires, which mercilessly eat their way through the forests.