Giant Sequoias and Coast Redwoods

Are these famous big trees the same? The short answer is no, but there's more to the story than that. They look similar and belong to the same family, but they live different lifestyles in different places.

Giant sequoias and coast redwoods are members of the cypress family of plants. It's an extraordinary family, with species living on every continent except Antarctica. Its members include the world's thickest tree (the Montezuma Cypress), the second-oldest tree (Patagonian cypress), the world's tallest tree (coast redwood), and the world's largest tree overall (giant sequoia). Some might call it the royal family of trees, but it's often referred to as the "redwood family" (although not all are red!)!

The cypress family has seven subfamilies, groups that are even more closely related. Our local giant sequoias share the same subfamily as the coast redwood and the dawn redwood.

 
Trees in a redwood forest
Coast redwoods

Alison Taggart-Barone

In a family or subfamily there can be multiple groupings of species called genera (the plural of genus). All three species in this subfamily are relatively rare. Each stands as the sole surviving species in its genus. Once, relatives of these species covered much of the Northern Hemisphere;now their natural ranges are much smaller. Currently, the range of the giant sequoia is limited to the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. The coast redwood's range is just along the central/northern California coast and the southwest Oregon coast. The range of the dawn redwood is only in Lichuan County, Hubei Province, China, where it grows in fertile, moist lowland areas also desirable for farming.

Although the ranges of these trees were greatly reduced due to ancient climatic and geologic events, human activities have made a significant impact, too. Logging in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies took many giant sequoias both for lumber and to prove to the world that such big trees existed. Coast redwoods were also logged for lumber and for firing lime kilns along the California coast.

Protecting the ecosystems they rely on will help to keep these giants and their unique life stories alive. Their ultimate fate depends on our actions both inside and outside parks and public spaces. Our choices make a difference.

Although the ranges of these trees were greatly reduced due to ancient climatic and geologic events, human activities have made a significant impact, too. Logging in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies took many giant sequoias both for lumber and to prove to the world that such big trees existed. Coast redwoods were also logged for lumber and for firing lime kilns along the California coast.

Protecting the ecosystems they rely on will help to keep these giants and their unique life stories alive. Their ultimate fate depends on our actions both inside and outside parks and public spaces. Our choices make a difference.


Last updated: September 16, 2016

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