On Sequoias

IMG-20170423-WA0033.jpgWasn’t I lucky to visit Yosemite National Park in April! One of the most fascinating things I saw there were the giant sequoia trees. Sequoia trees have been around for hundreds of years. In fact, Native American tribes living in that area have given them names like wawona, toos-pung-ish and hea-mi-withic.

IMG-20170423-WA0037.jpgGiant sequoias grow naturally only in a narrow 260-mile strip of mixed conifer forest on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, primarily between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation. They can live up to 3,000 years.

They can have branches up to 8 feet in diameter and their bark can grow up to 3 feet thick. The largest of the sequoias are as tall as an average 26-story building! Seriously! A few rare giant sequoias have grown taller than 300 feet, but it is the sequoia’s giant girth that sets it apart. They are usually more than 20 feet in diameter and up to 35 feet across.

According to me, the most interesting thing about them is that they are extremely fire resistant. Actually, they need forest fires in order to reproduce. They are incredibly hardy; they resist fungal rot, wood-boring beetles and their thick bark is flame resistant; they owe all of this unusual strength to the presence of tannic acids.

IMG-20170423-WA0048.jpgThey require regular wildfires to clear competing vegetation and soil humus before regeneration can occur successfully. Without fire, shade-loving species will crowd out young sequoia seedlings, and sequoia seeds will not germinate. When fully grown, these trees typically require large amounts of water and grow near streams.

Fires also bring hot air high into the canopy due to convection (yes, we studied about it in our Physics class J) which in turn dries and opens the cones (which are concentrated mainly at the top of the tree). Large quantities of seeds are released when this happens. They only reproduce by seeds which sometimes remain in the cone for 20 years.

Their hardiness, age and size are all connected. Because they are so tough they grow old; they have their age to thank for their size because unlike mammals, they just keep growing and growing as they get older.

General Sherman, a middle-aged giant Sequoia, is not only the largest living tree, but the largest living organism, by volume, on the planet. At approximately 2,100 years old, it weighs 2.7 million pounds, is 275 feet tall and has a 102-foot circumference at the ground. It has branches that are almost 7 feet in diameter.

Giant Sequoias.jpgI think that this quote by John Muir sums up their beauty so perfectly:

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.


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