Scattered on the lush western slopes of California's great Sierra Nevada range live the
75 remaining groves of the world's largest living things, the giant Sequoia trees.
The sequoia forest predominated much of the world for millions of years but was
virtually wiped out during the last ice age. The survivors lived on the Sierra's
western slopes above the ice.
(Photo, left. On the Congress Trail in the Giant Forest. This photo and the one below are "classics", taken in June, 1976.)
Voracious logging during the last half of the 19th century wiped out most of
the remaining sequoias. Sequoia National Park was created in 1890, and it
protects the finest grove, the Giant Forest, which contains the world's largest
living thing, the General Sherman tree (photo, below right). The adjacent Kings Canyon National
Park contains the General Grant Grove, and Yosemite National Park further north
features the Mariposa Grove. The remaining groves are in the adjacent national
forests and recently created Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The sequoias obtain their great size and age - thousands of years - due to their
natural vigor plus an exceptionally thick bark which gives the trees great disease
and fire resistance. In fact, the trees require occasional forest fires to survive.
Fires clear enough underbrush and other trees so that their seedlings can take hold.
The size of the General Sherman tree is over 50,000 cubic feet. Sequoias can reach
a base diameter of over 35 feet and a height close to 300 feet. Some of the trees
exceed 3,000 years in age. The tallest trees are the related coastal redwoods which
can reach heights over 350 feet. The oldest trees (and living things) are the
ancient bristlecone pines, some of which have lived for
more than 4,000 years.
Below, some sequoias from the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park.
At left and in the photo at the top - the tree's trunk has been split by
a lightning strike. Some strikes are inevitable given the sequoias' longevity.
However it usually doesn't kill the tree. The trunk's hardwood center is essentially
dead; nutrition is delivered through the bark.