Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 633 Sequoiadendron giganteum

Common Names: giant sequoia, giant redwood, bigtree, Sierra redwood Family: Taxodiaceae (bald-cypress Family)

giant sequoia
This is a blue-leafed selection of giant sequoia growing in Vancouver, British Columbia.


The "General Sherman" is a giant sequoia growing in Sequoia National Park, California, that happens to be the largest living thing on Earth. This tree is 275 ft (83.8 m) tall and its crown spreads 107 ft (32.6 m). The trunk is more than 26 ft (7.9 m) in diameter. The General Sherman is believed to be 2,500 years old, and weigh more than 1000 tons.

John Muir called the giant sequoia "the noblest of a noble race." The giant sequoia is a columnar or cone-shaped tree, losing its lower branches and becoming flat-topped with age. Trees more than 100 years old typically are free of branches to a height of 100 ft (30.5 m) or more. In cultivation, giant sequoias usually grow no more than 60-100 ft (18.3-30.5 m) tall and retain their lower branches which may droop down to touch the ground and sometimes take root. The reddish brown bark is very thick, up to 20 in (50.8 cm) and deeply fissured. The bright gray-green leaves are scale-like, sharp-pointed, 1/4 in (0.6 cm) long, overlapping each other, and completely covering the twigs. The egg shaped cones are 3 in (7.6 cm) long, and remain on the tree for up to 20 years. Unlike the related California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), giant sequoia does not sprout from the roots.

The selection, 'Pendulum' has a crooked trunk with outer branches that droop down like curtains, and 'Pygmaeum' has a shrubby, dwarf habit. 'Les Barres' and 'Glauca' have bluish foliage.

The General Sherman is considered to be the largest giant sequoia because of a combination of height, canopy spread and trunk diameter. However, some giant sequoias are closer to 300 ft (91.4 m) tall, and some California redwoods and coast Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii), although not as massive as giant sequoias, are even taller.


Sequoiadendron giganteum, the giant sequoia, grows naturally in isolated stands on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada range in central California, from 4,000-8,500 ft (1219-2,591 m) above sea level. The northernmost grove, consisting of six trees, is in Placer County, and the southernmost grove of 100 trees is in Tulare County, 260 miles (418 km) to the south. The largest concentrations and best stands are in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, where there are whole groves of giant sequoias with trunk diameters exceeding 20 ft (6.1 m) and heights exceeding 275 ft (83.8 m). These are truly majestic cathedrals that only God could make!


Giant sequoias are cultivated in Europe and eastern North America as well as the US West Coast. They do best in a moderately fertile, deep, well drained soil, in full sun to partial shade. They like a cool climate. Giant sequoias grow rapidly for the first few centuries, then slow down as they surpass 150 ft (45.7 m) in height. Light: Full sun to dappled shade. Seedlings and young saplings do best in partial shade. Moisture: The average precipitation in the natural range of giant sequoia is 45-60 in (114-152 cm) per year, mostly from snow. Water young specimens deeply and often. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Has been reported to survive temperatures of -22ºF (-30ºC) in Scandinavia. Should be protected from cold winter winds. Propagation: Giant sequoia can be grown from seed. Best results come from seed that has been soaked in water for 24 hours, then chilled for 30-60 days before planting in mineral soil. Giant sequoia also can be propagated by rooting soft wood tip cuttings in summer and semi-hard cuttings in late summer.
The scale-like leaves of the giant sequoia vary in color from yellow green to deep green to bright blue green.


The giant sequoia makes a magnificent specimen tree if you have the room. In the eastern US, giant sequoia does much better than California redwood.


Sequoiadendron, like Sequoia, is a monotypic genus in the baldcypress family, an ancient group of conifers that once shared the landscape with dinosaurs. Today the remaining 18 species (in 10 genera) are confined to North America, eastern Asia and Tasmania, and are relics of a former worldwide distribution.

The genus is named in honor of Sequoiah (1770-1843), the son of a British merchant and a Cherokee woman, who became a Cherokee chief and created an alphabet for his people's language. Dendron is from the Greek for tree.

Steve Christman 2/22/00

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Sequoiadendron species profiled on Floridata:

Sequoiadendron giganteum

( giant sequoia, giant redwood, bigtree, Sierra redwood )

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