Would you believe that some of the oldest, tallest and most massive living objects on Earth can be found in the forests of California? It’s true! What are we talking about? Dinosaurs? Bears? Bigfoot?
Nope! We’re talking about trees. Specifically, we’re talking about Sequoia sempervirens, more commonly known as the Coastal Redwood, and Sequoiadendron giganteum, more commonly known as the Giant Sequoia.
Many people think of redwoods and sequoias as the same tree. They both call California home. They’re both coniferous (cone-bearing), evergreen trees with similar cinnamon-colored bark. And they both grow to amazing heights (many are taller than the Statue of Liberty).
However, redwoods and sequoias are separate species that also have their differences. For example, both redwoods and sequoias grow in very special, but different environments.
Coastal redwoods get the “coastal” part of their name from the fact that they grow only along a narrow area of the Northern California coast. They need a wet, humid climate to grow. California’s northern coastline provides a lot of fog that satisfies redwoods’ need for moisture.
Giant sequoias, on the other hand, grow only along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Although the climate in the mountains stays mild most of the year, the sequoias do get the dry heat they need each year for their seed-bearing cones to mature and release seeds. They also need thousands of gallons of water each day, which they get from the snow that accumulates in the Sierra Nevada Mountains over the winter.
There are a few other key differences between redwoods and sequoias. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. Many can grow over 320 feet tall (as tall as a 32-story building), and the tallest has been measured at approximately 379.1 feet, which makes it taller than Big Ben!
Sequoias don’t grow quite as tall although they can still reach over 300 feet. However, they’re the largest, most massive trees in the world. Whereas redwoods often grow up to 22 feet in diameter and weigh up to 1.6 million pounds, sequoias can grow up to 40 feet in diameter and weigh over 2.5 million pounds!
Perhaps the most impressive giant sequoia is the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park. It is almost 275 feet tall and over 100 feet around at its base. It weighs about 2.7 million pounds and is believed to be the largest living tree in the world.
Redwoods and sequoias are also some of the oldest trees in the world. Redwood trees can live up to 2,000 years, while sequoias often live over 3,000 years. The oldest known sequoia is over 3,500 years old.
These giant trees still survive but in far fewer numbers than in the past. They still draw thousands of tourists to California each year to see their natural beauty and awe-inspiring size. In fact, they’re so huge that some trees have been hollowed out so that you can drive through them!
Some of the drive-through trees have fallen down over the years, but there are several trees you can still drive through. Three are located along a scenic stretch of California Route 254 known as the Avenue of the Giants: Chandelier Tree, Shrine Drive-Thru Tree and Klamath Tour Thru Tree. Each of these drive-through trees is privately-owned, so you have to pay a fee to drive through them.