January 13, 2013 The Majesty of The Sierra Nevada’s
Of 80,000 different kinds of trees on our planet there can only be one king of the race. The Sequioas of the Sierra Nevadas hold that undisputed title.
It is fitting that the largest trees in the world – Sequoias or as they are affectionately called “Big Trees” – live on the spectacular snowy mountains or backbone of California. On the west side at the elevation of between 4,500 and 7,200 feet above sea level 18 feet of snow fall each year. And incidentally, it’s this snow which sustains most of our 38 million inhabitants, millions of tourists each year and the eighth mightiest economy on the globe.
So how big is Big Tree? Gigantic. An average tree can be 270 feet tall with a base 20 feet across. If a colossal ice-age Columbia mammoth sauntered around the corner it would seem small in the gargantuan Sequoia forests.
Sequoias are one of the rarest trees not just in America but in the world. Their lineage dates back a hundred million years or so. Fossil records clearly show of their existence in Europe, the Orient, Greenland and the U.S. Midwest. Despite climate change, geologic upheavals and over-harvesting between 1850 and 1900, Sequoias thrive in 75 groves along a 260-mile stretch on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas. If not for the Herculean effort of naturalist John Muir (co-founder of the Sierra Club) these magnificent groves of giant Sequoia’s would have been destroyed.
These trees are exceptional but not just because of their size. They are extremely fast growing with extensive root systems. They probably reach 275 feet by the time they are 500 years old. The can live for over 3,000 years; that’s almost 1.1 million sunrises.
They have evolved with fire, and without fire the species future is in jeopardy. Their cones remain on the tree, shut tight, with viable seeds for up to two decades. The heat of the fire melts the resin around the cone scales and provides bare ground for the seeds to germinate upon. In addition, Sequoia cones are a critical food source for Douglas squirrels or chickarees.
Sequoia’s fibrous bark can be two feet thick on the old trees and is filled with tannic acid; its the same chemical make-up used in fire extinguisher’s around the globe.
There are few kinds of trees that can be hit repeatedly by 100,000,000 volts of electricity – a bolt of lightning – and live. Sequoia can. No birds, mammals or disease can bother these giants. The wood is unpalatable for insects and fungi. The reason they eventually tumble is that they loose their feet. Repeated fires can damage structural roots enabling high winds and heavy snow loadings to eventually force them over.
The largest living animals on Earth are blue whales – 3 blue whales fit inside General Sherman, the largest living Sequoia, and tree of any kind, in the world.
Visit Sequoia National Park and find out why Sequoias are the noblest of a noble race.
Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.
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