The Giant Sequoias of California
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HIGH in California's Sierra Nevada stand "nature's forest masterpieces"—remnants of once widespread forests that covered a large portion of the Northern Hemisphere. Today but a relatively few of the giant sequoias1 remain to interpret the past and give promise to the future.

1The tree has been popularly known as Big Tree, sequoia, Sierra redwood, and giant sequoia. The last name is considered most descriptive and has recently been accepted by the Federal Government for official use.

Although these forest monarchs have created great interest, aroused much speculation, and resulted in many stories since their earliest discovery, they continue to be among the mysteries and wonders of nature. The human tongue, gifted as it is, has failed to describe adequately their towering majesty and solemn beauty. As individuals, and as members of a forest community, they stand supreme—the largest and perhaps the oldest living things on earth.

In the Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park. Anderson Photo

On his first pilgrimage to the giant Sequoias the visitor views these trees with mixed feelings; awe, wonder, disbelief, and perhaps a bit of disappointment are jumbled together in a maelstrom of emotion. Much depends upon the presence or absence of familiar objects to lend scale and perspective to the scene. Viewed as an individual, standing next to familiar man-made objects, the sequoia is more readily placed in proper perspective than when found in communities of sequoias and other large-sized associated trees. Statistics mean little to the initiate because he has no past experience upon which to base mental comparisons. With increasing familiarity, however, the size and grandeur of the giant sequoia gradually become comprehensible and a true interest and deep respect develop for this forest monarch.

After seeing several of these trees, one cannot say that he has observed all that is of interest about them, for, like few other species, the giant sequoia exhibits great individuality and many unique characteristics. Each tree presents some new phase of size, persistence, or growth, and even those trees that have succumbed tell a fascinating story of life in the face of adversity. It is this tenacity to life and incomparable resistance to destruction that make the giant sequoia unique in the tree world and are the keys to its long life and great size.

Naturally many questions come to mind as the visitor becomes acquainted with this outstanding tree, and it is to answer some of the more important of these questions that this brief, nontechnical account of the giant Sequoias was prepared. The park rangers and naturalists are always glad to assist in bettering your understanding of these trees, so if the answer is not found herein do not hesitate to make inquiry. By no means should the trees themselves be neglected, for it is by personal experience and reflection that a true regard and appreciation can best be developed for these monarchs of the forest world.

In the preparation of this bulletin the author is indebted to the following National Park Service colleagues for their advice and assistance: Chief of Forestry J. D. Coffman; Regional Forester Burnett Sanford; and the superintendents and staffs of Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks. Special credit is due to Forester A. Robert Thompson for his assistance in reviewing the text and preparing the map.

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Last Updated: 02-Feb-2007