There is no shortage of National Parks, incredible landscapes, and rich flora and fauna across the United States. Yet, out of all natural features the country has to offer, perhaps one of the most unique and impressive is the giant sequoia trees. Although most travelers don’t come to the US just to catch a glimpse of this magnificent species, if you happen to be around California or are planning a trip to the southwest, make sure to include the Sequoia Tree National Park in your itinerary.
The Sequoia Tree: a work of nature
The Sequoia has three genera of the Cupressaceae family (some authors may still treat it as from the Taxodiaceae family, however, the classification has changed after further phylogenetic studies). The name Sequoia was given in honor of a great chief of the American Indian tribe Cherokee, whose name was Sequoyah.
The Sequoia sempervirens is popularly called evergreen sequoia or coast redwood and reaches more than 90 meters in height, which is approximately the same as the height of a 30-story building. Usually, the lower branches are 45 meters away from the ground and its trunk can reach 3 meters in diameter. The coloration of this tree can vary between reddish brown and cinnamon brown, its bark may have an average of 15 to 30 cm and deep grooves. In recent years, this species has been planted in different regions of the world for ornamental purposes. In August of 2006, a specimen of coast redwood was discovered in San Fransisco and was dubbed Hyperion, now the world’s largest tree measuring approximately 115 meters (~ 380 feet).
Meanwhile, the Sequoiadendron family – within which there is only one species, the Sequoiadendron giganteum – is known as “giant sequoia” and considered the largest tree in the world in terms of volume. This is one of the largest tree species known on Earth, the oldest recorded is about 4,650 years old and is found in California. This species presents a thick and fibrous trunk in the base and its color is reddish; its furrows can reach 60 cm of thickness and often serve as protection against the fire.
Finally, there is also a third genus found in China, the sequoia of the genus Metasequoia, which has a unique living species that is Metasequoia glyptostroboides. This species is characterized by its leafy branches that change color according to the season: clear in spring, blue in summer, yellow in autumn and red in winter. Generally, this particular type of sequoia is used both in afforestation and ornamentation and it is also considered a living fossil since it is able to reach 60 meters in height while withstanding cold and frosty winds. These are a versatile kind and adapt to any type of soil provided they are well drained.
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The Sequoia Tree National Park
Famous for its 80-meter tall trees, the Sequoia National Park in the US attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year. The park is located in the mountain range of Sierra Nevada, California and its main attraction is General Sherman, the highest giant sequoia in the world regarding volume. The tree is 83 meters high and features a trunk with 33 m circumference at the base; even at 36 meters high the trunk still measures 5 m in diameter.
The trunk of General Sherman weighs 1,400 tons, the equivalent of 15 adult whales or 25 war tanks. In order to catch a glimpse of this giant, you should follow a paved trail that winds through other gigantic trees. Aside from these “natural skyscrapers”, the area also has 200 marble caves that attract tourists for their subterranean streams and internal architecture dotted with stalactites and stalagmites. After you have explored both under and overground, a visit to the Giant Forest Museum – a museum that tells the story of the famous forest that houses the sequoias – is well worth it. If that wasn’t enough for a day out, another attraction worth checking out is a tunnel of 2.4 m of extension and 5.2 m of width that passes inside of a sequoia which fell in 1937 by natural causes. It is believed that the tree was around 2,000 years old when it finally fell to the ground.
Created in 1980, the Sequoia National Park is the second-oldest national park in the United States. In addition to the giant trees, it holds another record: in the same area is Mount Whitney, considered the highest peak of continental United States, at 4,417 m high.