Geography of Tree Extremes

Where are the tallest, largest, and oldest trees in the world?  This article explore the geography of tree extremes.

Tallest Tree in the World

The tallest tree in the world can be found in Northern California.  Named Hyperion, this coast redwood tree stands at 115.55 m (379.1 ft) tall.  Discovered on August 25, 2006, by naturalists Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, the exact location of the tree has remained confidential for fears of disturbance by human traffic.  The tree, which is estimated to be between 700 to 800 years old, is located in a remote old-growth section of the Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP).  The tree continues to growth at a rate of 2 centimeters per year.  In 2012, the BBC featured the tree in a documentary entitled James and the Giant Redwoods.


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Here is video showing James Spickler climbing the world’s largest tree to measure it:

Learn more: The World’s tallest Tree is Hiding Somewhere in Northern California – August 8, 2011, npr.org

World’s Largest Tree

Known as “General Sherman”, the world’s largest living tree is a roughly 3,200 year old giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) located in Tulare County in California.  The tree stands at a height of 83.8 meters (247 feet tall) and is 8.23 meters (27 feet) in diameter.  The collective aboveground biomass of this tree makes it the largest living tree in the world by volume, with a 1975 measured volume of 1,486.6 cubic meters (52,500 cubic feet).

Learn more: General Sherman Tree – National Park Service info sheet.

To appreciate the magnitude of General Sherman, check out this video from National Geographic about photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols’ effort to capture the entire tree in a mosaic of images:

World’s Oldest Tree

California again lays claim to another tree extreme: it’s home to the world’s oldest trees.  The two currently living oldest trees are both Great Basin bristlecone pines.  The oldest verified measured tree in the world (via coring) is over five thousand years old (5,064 to be exact) and is located in the White Mountains of California.

A exampled of a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine Pinus longaeva. Taken along the Methuselah Trail, Schulman Grove in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the Inyo National Forest, in the White Mountains, Inyo County, eastern California. Photo: Dcrjsr, MediaWiki Commons.

A example of a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine Pinus longaeva. Taken along the Methuselah Trail, Schulman Grove in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the Inyo National Forest, in the White Mountains, Inyo County, eastern California. Photo: Dcrjsr, MediaWiki Commons.

Learn more: OldList database of Ancient Trees

Oldest Clonal Colony of Trees

A colony of organisms can last much longer than individuals.  In a clonal colony, the group of trees is genetically identical and new individual originate vegetatively, rather than through sexual reproduction.  In a clonal colony of trees, wide ranging roots send up new shoots called suckers.  The oldest clonal colony of trees is located in Utah and encompasses 43 hectares (106 acres), weighs nearly 6,000 tonnes (13,000,000 pounds), and has over 40,000 stems (trunks). While the colony itself is estimated to be about 80,000 years old, individual trees live to be about 130 years old.  Nicknamed “Pando”, the colony originates from a single single male quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides).  Also known as the the Trembling Giant, Pando is also considered the world’s heaviest organism.

The Pando quacking ashen colony near Fish Lake in Utah. Photo by J Zapell, USDA Forest Service.

The Pando quaking ashen colony near Fish Lake in Utah. Photo by J. Zapell, USDA Forest Service, 2001.

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