The Redwoods of Coast and Sierra
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IT IS A COMMON human trait to be interested in the biggest of anything. Which is the biggest tree in the world? Some say one, some another; some have measured the height of a tree, and insisted that the tallest tree is the largest tree in the world; others have measured the circumference, and have contended that the one having the greatest girth is the largest. Perhaps bigness had best be measured in terms of total volume. This can be expressed in board feet of lumber, and the quantitative measurement will permit definite comparisons to be made.

Without question, if total volume is used as the standard of measurement, the Sierra Redwoods will stand at the head of the list as the largest trees in the world. And among them there may yet be found trees which, measured accurately, will be found to be larger than some of those which are now world famous. There are some very fine trees in the Calaveras and Stanislaus groves, and many in the groves of Sequoia National Park, which may be larger than some that are now usually accepted as the largest.


By volume, the largest of the Sierra Redwoods are larger than any of the Coast Redwoods. The four most renowned measured Sierra Redwood trees are the following.

General Sherman—"The Largest Living Thing."—The title of the world's "Largest Living Thing" is often given to the General Sherman. This is a magnificent Sierra Redwood in Sequoia National Park. There are taller trees in the world, and a few that have greater diameter, but probably none has a total volume equaling that of the General Sherman. The Sequoia National Park Circular of Information for 1934 gives as the dimensions of this tree: height above mean base, 272.4 feet; base circumference, 101.6 feet; greatest base diameter, 36.5 feet; mean base diameter, 33.7 feet; diameter of largest branch, 6.8 feet; total volume, 600,120 board feet. Fry and Whine, in Big Trees, give its total estimated weight as more than 12,000,000 pounds, or 6,167 tons, divided approximately as follows: trunk, 5,602 tons; root system, 375 tons; limbs, 178 tons; bark, 7 tons; foliage, 5 tons. In terms of familiar comparisons, the tree is one-third of a city block in circumference and nearly a block tall. It has a diameter greater than the width of the ordinary home. One limb is larger in diameter than most of the trees in the Rocky Mountains. The tree's weight equals that of 4,000 automobiles. In contains enough lumber to make forty five-room bungalows. There is enough wood in it to make a box large enough to contain the largest ocean liner ever built.

General Grant—"The Nation's Christmas Tree."—The General Grant tree is in General Grant National Park. In is usually considered as second only to the General Sherman in size. The General Grant National Park Circular of Information for 1934 states that the General Grant Tree has the greatest base diameter (40.3 feet) and the largest diameter an 200 feet from the ground (12 feet) of any known Sequoia. The tree is 267 feet tall. It has a circumference of 107.6 feet, and contains 516,456 board feet of lumber. Although not the largest of all Redwoods, certainly this tree, which was designated several years ago as "The Nation's Christmas Tree," is one of the notably large trees of the world. It is worthy of high honor.

The Boole Tree—saved by a lumber foreman.—Some years ago, a lumber company cut down a large number of the finest Sierra Redwoods known, in Converse Basin, which is near General Grant National Park. On account of the brittleness of Redwood, often as much as one-half to three-fourths of it is wasted in the lumbering operation. Tons of Redwood trunks and limbs now lie in the Converse Basin, a testimony no the wastefulness and uselessness of lumbering the Sierra Redwood. Fry and White call this area a "Land of Desolation."


In this basin, in the Kings River watershed, one of the finest trees is said to have been saved by the foreman of the lumber crew. It was later named in his honor the Boole Tree. The Boole ranks high among the largest trees of the world. It has an actually greater circumference than either the General Sherman or the General Grant. The dimensions of the tree are: height, 268.8 feet; circumference, 112 feet; total volume in board feet of lumber, 479,688.

Grizzly Giant—sentinel of the ages.—The Grizzly Giant of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees in Yosemite National Park is one of the truly large trees of the world. It is not so tall as the other trees that have been mentioned, but in size throughout the greater part of its height it compares favorably with them. It appears to have suffered greatly through the centuries from lightning and fire, yet it continues to live and grow. Its dimensions are: height, 209 feet; base circumference, 96 feet; greatest base diameter, 32.5 feet; mean base diameter, 27.6 feet; diameter of largest limb, 6 feet; and total number of board feet, 367,000.

A summary of the size of these four large trees will make comparisons somewhat easier. The dimensions in feet are as follows:

HeightCircumferenceBoard feet
General Sherman272.4101.6600,120
General Grant267.0107.6516,456
Grizzly Giant209.096.0367,000

Among the Coast Redwoods also, a number of unusually large trees are to be found. At least five or six unusually "Big Trees" have become well known; and doubtless there are others not yet measured which would compare favorably with these. The Coast Redwood is a good lumber tree. Nearly all the early published statements on its size have given the "timber cruise" volume. The measurements were made by foresters or lumbermen, and naturally their figures indicated the number of merchantable board feet of lumber in a tree or in an area of Redwood trees. When the Save-the-Redwoods League began buying Coast Redwood areas, it was naturally interested in the value of the trees of each area and the value was best determined by the same method that had been employed by the foresters for lumber companies. The board-feet volume as published for most of the best-known Coast Redwoods does not indicate the total volume as expressed in board feet; and the majority of the published statements on the size of the Coast Redwoods do not compare favorably with those on the size of the Sierra Redwoods because of this difference in methods of measurement.

The largest Coast Redwoods probably exceed in total volume 300,000 board feet. Although this is not as great a figure as that given for any one of the four largest known Sierra Redwoods, it represents lumber enough to build about twenty average-sized homes. The following are among the better-known "Big Trees" among the Coast Redwoods: "Santa Clara," in the California State Redwood Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains; the "Big Tree" of Maple Creek; the "Big Tree" of Prairie Creek; the "Big Tree" of Hiouchi Redwood Park; the "Big Tree" of Bull Creek Flat; and the "General Custer" of Big Tree Park.

Because several sets of measurements have been published with respect to the size of these "Big Trees," and these are somewhat contradictory, I give here the measurements supplied by E. P. French, Superintendent of the Northwest District, State Parks. He is an experienced timber cruiser and forester and has measured nearly all the larger Coast Redwoods. The following measurements indicate "mill cut" volume instead of total volume, and in order to arrive at the total volume about one-fourth the volume here given should be added.

Height Diameter
(Breast ht.)
Circumference Board
Big Tree, Bull Creek Flat34516.672235,000
Santa Clara, Big Basin24017.965.6200,000
Big Tree, Hiouchi Redwood Park34016.662.3130,800
Big Tree, Prairie Creek Redwoods30017.790128,000
General Custer, Big Tree Park28016.27184,000


In respect to height, the Coast Redwood, not the Sierra Redwood, stands at the top of the list.

Coast Redwood—the world's tallest trees.—The tallest known Coast Redwood is one still standing on North Dyerville Flat about 800 feet east of Dyerville Bridge in Humboldt County. This tree is 364 feet in height and 15 feet in diameter at the base. It is commonly referred to as the "world's tallest known standing tree," or the "Founders' Tree." It was dedicated to the founders of the Save-the-Redwoods League—Dr. John C. Merriam, of Washington, D. C., President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and President of the League; Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, deceased, of New York, then President of the American Museum of Natural History; and Mr. Madison Grant, of New York. Taller trees may have existed in the past—some have been reported as of heights up to 375 feet—but, so far as is known at the present time, this is the tallest standing tree in existence. Many of the Coast Redwoods attain a height of from 300 to 350 feet.

Douglas Fir—the tallest tree of the Pacific Northwest.—The Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia) is not only one of America's best lumber trees, but also one of the largest. The Douglas Fir is a member of the Pine Family. Although it is not a true pine—nor a true fir—it is sold by lumbermen under the trade name of "Oregon Pine." The scientific name means "false hemlock with yew-like foliage." There are no trees of this kind in the Eastern Hemisphere. The trees were discovered by an English botanist, Douglas, and they have been named in his honor. They are found growing natively in the western United States from Colorado through Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California.

According to records of the United States Department of Agriculture, as contained in a Technical Bulletin published in October, 1930, there is a standing Douglas Fir near Little Rock, Washington, which is 330 feet in height, with a diameter of approximately 6 feet. At least three other trees of this species have been found to be more than 300 feet tall. Thousands of them are more than 200 feet in height.

Eucalyptus—Australia's tallest tree.—Eucalyptus, sometimes called "Gum" is a species of hardwood, native to Australia. This tree has been planted widely in California. A fine group of about 100 of these trees may be seen growing near the Life Sciences Building of the University of California at Berkeley.

According to the service bulletin of the United States Forest Products Laboratory in Washington, D. C., the tallest Eucalyptus of authentic known measurement was in Colac, Victoria, Australia. It was 346 feet in height, and was felled many years ago. Present living Eucalyptus trees measure from 300 feet to 310 feet in height. Undoubtedly, there have been taller trees in the past, but statements alleging heights of from 400 to 500 feet are not accepted by good authorities.


Sierra Redwood—trees a block tall.—The Sierra Redwood reaches a height of 310 feet. There is one of that height in General Grant National Park—the California Tree. We have the record of a fallen tree which was of exactly the same height as the tallest Eucalyptus, namely, 346 feet. Judge Fry, of Sequoia National Park, measured a fallen Sierra Redwood in Redwood Mountain Grove which was 346 feet long. Many of these trees have heights ranging from 250 to 300 feet.

Sugar Pine—"Queen of the Sierra."—The Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) is a white pine; John Muir has called it the "Queen of the Sierra." It is associated with the Sierra Redwood on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Trees of this species often reach a height of 240 feet and a diameter up to 10 or 11 feet. Mature trees produce the longest cone of any tree in the world, often from 18 to 24 inches long.

To summarize. The heights of the tallest known standing trees are as follows:

Height in feet
Coast Redwood—Founders' Tree364
Douglas Fir—State of Washington330
Sierra Redwood—California Tree310
Sugar Pine—State of California240

A number of trees, one may observe, are taller than the ordinary city block is long. Several of them are taller than the Campanile of the University of California at Berkeley (307 feet). Several trees are more than two-thirds the height of the City Hall of Los Angeles (460 feet), and hundreds of trees are more than one-half as tall as the Washington Monument (555 feet).

THE GENERAL GRANT—"THE NATION'S CHRISTMAS TREE" Courtesy of General Grant National Park


Another measurement often given to indicate the size of trees is the diameter, accompanied usually by the circumference. Yet it is exceedingly difficult to obtain an accurate measurement of the diameter of a tree. Many trees have root swellings which, if included, do not give a correct idea of the real size. Where the measurement is made is also important. Some diameters are listed as base measurements, others as taken at five feet from base, and still others at ten feet from the base. It seems that either the five- or the ten-feet-above-base measurement should be adopted in order to give more accurate data. Foresters commonly use "breast high," which is approximately five feet, as the most representative measurement. In most of the data given in this book the base measurements have been included.

As nearly as I have been able to determine the facts, the following statements are correct for the diameter of some of the better-known large trees.

Sierra Redwood—the world's largest trees.—Several trees of the Sierra Redwood measure from 30 to 32 feet in diameter at the base. The greatest measurement of the Grizzly Giant is 32.5 feet, of the General Sherman, 36.5 feet, and of the General Grant, 40.3 feet. Hundreds of Sierra Redwood are more than 25 feet in diameter.

Kauri Pine—New Zealand's Big Tree.—The Kauri "Pine" (Agathis australis), or Big Tree of New Zealand, deserves mention among the large trees of the world. It is not a true pine, but a member of the Araucaria Family. The so-called Monkey Puzzle Tree and the Norfolk Island Pine belong to this family. Various species of the family are cultivated although native only in the Southern Hemisphere. Besides New Zealand, some of the South American countries have large forests of members of this family.

The largest living Kauri Pine tree measures 24 feet in diameter. It is in a grove near the head of Mercury Bay, Auckland, in a state forest. This forest is a great reserve of 10,000 acres, made up in large part of Kauri Pines, and contains many of the largest Kauri trees still standing. Many of them are from 16 to 20 feet in diameter. The larger Kauri trees scale about 200,000 board feet of lumber.

Coast Redwood—The largest trees of the Redwood Highway.— Among the big trees of America, the Coast Redwood is second only to the Sierra Redwood. They do not ordinarily exceed 18 feet in diameter, but several larger individual trees deserve mention. A Coast Redwood tree at Big Tree Park, Del Norte County, California, is 22.8 feet in diameter at the base, and 16 feet, 2 inches at breast height. This tree is often incorrectly called the largest tree in the world. Another tree, in Mill Creek, is 19 feet, 10 inches in diameter at the base and 16 feet, 6 inches in diameter at breast height, and a third tree of this species, the Santa Clara, in the California State Redwood Park (Big Basin), is 17 feet, 9 inches in diameter.

Mexican Cypress—Mexico's largest tree.—The Mexican Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) is a member of the Redwood Family. It grows to a large size, reaching a diameter of from 18 to 20 feet. There is a famous tree in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico, in the churchyard of the village of Santa María del Tule, which is much larger than others of this species, with a diameter of 40 feet at the ground, and of 35 feet at five feet from the ground. The tree is 160 feet tall, and the branches have a spread of about 140 feet. Although this tree is not so large in total volume as the largest of the Sierra Redwood, it is larger in diameter than any of them with the possible exception of the General Grant Tree.

Bald Cypress—the deciduous conifer.—The Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) is closely related to the Mexican Cypress and also belongs to the Redwood Family. Trees of this species grow in the southeastern part of the United States. They occur in swamps, where they form "knee" growths through which the roots receive oxygen. The trees often attain a diameter of from 10 to 20 feet, and occasionally up to 15 feet. The largest tree in the State of Oklahoma is a Bald Cypress, 10 feet in diameter. The foliage of the Bald Cypress resembles the foliage of the Coast Redwood. Cypress, however, loses its leaves in winter, and Redwood is evergreen.

Japanese Cedar—the Big Tree of Japan.—The Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) is another member of the Redwood Family which grows to be a very large tree. It is native to Japan. Its foliage is similar to that of the Sierra Redwood. The cones are about the size of the cones of the Coast Redwood, but have prominent bracts, which the cones of the Coast Redwood lack. Several centuries ago, thousands of Cryptomerias were planted on either side of a part of the highway leading from Tokyo up to the temples at Nikko. Many of them have grown to enormous size and now form a very beautiful setting to the highway. Ordinarily, the trees do not exceed from 10 to 12 feet in diameter, nor 135 feet in height.

Banyan Tree—tree of a thousand trunks.—The Banyan Tree (Ficus indica) of tropical regions is often incorrectly compared with other big trees. Through its ability to start new trees by roots which extend from its drooping branches, it forms an aggregation of several united trees, which may have a total measurement of as much as 100 feet across. This is the measurement, however, not of one tree, but of several. Banyan trees of this type may have as many as 3,000 trunks. The name "Banyan" is from the Hindu for "merchant." The trees are so named because they are so frequently used as market places.

In summary. The Sierra Redwood and the Coast Redwood are just about supreme among the big trees of the world: five of the six biggest trees listed are members of the Redwood Family.


Largest diameter
Sierra Redwood32 feet—unusual, 40 feet
Kauri Pine24 feet
Coast Redwood18 feet—unusual, 22 feet
Mexican Cypress20 feet—unusual, 40 feet
Bald Cypress15 feet
Japanese Cedar12 feet


The Redwoods of Coast and Sierra
©1940, University of California Press
shirley/sec10.htm — 02-Feb-2007