Trees are an essential part of the world’s ecosystem. These plants provide oxygen, store carbon dioxide, and serve as homes to animals. Big or small, every tree is important. We can only be fascinated by giant trees! They have withstood decades, numerous calamities, and even the lowest winter temperatures.
Did you know that the largest tree in the world by volume is a giant sequoia named General Sherman? It’s located in California’s Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park’s Giant. In fact, the top 10 largest trees in the world by bole volume are all giant sequoias. General Sherman has a bole volume of 52,508 cubic feet. However, being the most massive tree does not necessarily mean it is also the tallest. The tallest tree in the world is called Hyperion, a 380-feet (115-meter) tall coast redwood located in California.
While both can reach extraordinary sizes, giant sequoia and coast redwood are different species of evergreen trees. Let’s learn how to tell the two apart!
Comparing Giant Sequoia vs. Coast Redwood
|Giant Sequoia||Coast Redwood|
Species: Sequoiadendron giganteum
Species: Sequoia sempervirens
|Origin||Sierra Nevada mountain range, California||Oregon, California|
|USDA Hardiness Zone||Zone 6 to 9||Zone 7 to 10|
|Conservation Status in the US||Endangered, protected||Endangered, protected|
|Size||Height: up to 300 ft (91 m)||Height: 200 to 325 ft (60 to 99 m)|
|Shape||Pyramidal-oval shape; columnar trunks||Straight, slender trunk; conical crown|
|Wood||High-quality, rot-resistant||High-quality, decay-resistant|
|Cones||1.97 – 3.54 inches (5 to 9 cm)||0.8 – 1 inch (2 to 2.5 cm)|
|Uses||Wood isn’t suitable for construction because it’s fibrous and brittle;|
Ornamental trees for parks and large homes;
Major tourist attraction in California
|Wood is used for construction;|
Cultivated as an ornamental tree
|Elevation Limit (Distance Above Sea Level)||Upper elevation limit: 8,858 ft (2,700 m)|
Lower elevation limit: 2,723 ft (830 m)
|Upper elevation limit: 3,018 ft (920 m)|
Lower elevation limit: 3 ft (1 m)
The Key Differences Between Giant Sequoia vs. Coast Redwood
Their size isn’t the only thing that helps us tell giant sequoias and coast redwoods apart. They have different classifications, distributions, hardiness zones, and characteristics. Here are the five key differences between giant sequoia vs. coast redwood.
Giant Sequoia vs. Coast Redwood: Classification
Giant sequoias and coast redwoods are related species in the cypress (Cupressaceae) family. However, they belong to different genera. The giant sequoia is the only extant species in the Sequoiadendron genus. It is scientifically called Sequoiadendron giganteum. It is also commonly called big tree, sequoia, or Sierra redwood. On the other hand, coast redwood is the only extant species in the Sequoia genus.
Giant Sequoia vs. Coast Redwood: Distribution
Giant sequoias are native to the mountain range of Sierra Nevada, California. They grow groves extending over 248 miles (400 km) along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
Reports in 2013 recorded 67 giant sequoia groves in California, and 59 are in Fresno and Tulare counties, where Sequoia National Park is located. Coast redwood is native to southwestern Oregon and California. It grows in California’s northern and central coastal areas, with the largest and tallest specimens growing in Redwood National and State Parks.
Giant Sequoia vs. Coast Redwood: Hardiness Zone
The Hardiness Zone Map consists of 13 geographic zones based on the area’s average minimum temperature, an essential factor indicating a plant’s survival.
Giant sequoias are hardy to USDA Zone 6. They can withstand the cold climate of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and grow at elevations of up to 8,858 ft (2,700 m).
On the other hand, coast redwoods are hardy to USDA Zones 7 to 10 and grow at elevations of up to 3,018 ft (920 m).
Giant Sequoia vs. Coast Redwood: Size and Shape
Giant sequoias grow fast until they are 100 ft tall. But in the wild, they can grow up to more than 300 ft (91 m). Sequoias have massive trunks with a slight taper at the top.
On the other hand, coast redwoods are among the tallest trees in the world and can grow to an average height of 200 to 325 feet (60 to 99 m). They have pyramid-like shapes and tall, slender trunks.
Giant Sequoia vs. Coast Redwood: Characteristics
Giant sequoias and coast redwoods both have beautiful red-brown barks. Giant sequoias have blue-green, scale-like, sharp-pointed leaves about 0.25 inches long, while coast redwoods have deep green needle-like leaves about 0.6 – 1 inches long.
Giant sequoias and coast redwoods are monoecious trees. This means that pollen and seed cones are on the same giant sequoia or coast redwood tree. But their cones vary in size. Giant sequoia produces male cones in short shoots or spurs. Female cones are ready to be pollinated when they double the size of the twigs. Fertilization will complete during the summer. Mature egg-shaped cones are about 1.97 – 3.54 inches (5 to 9 cm) long and will yield an average of 200 seeds. On the other hand, coast redwood cones are much smaller than giant sequoia cones, measuring about 0.8 – 1 inches (2 to 2.5 cm) long.
Bonus: Have California’s Wildfires Killed Sequoias?
Fire is nothing new to California’s ancient sequoias – they have coexisted with them for thousands of years. These mighty giants have evolved thick, spongy bark to insulate them from injury and their branches are tall enough to escape most flames. They actually benefit from some fires whose heat causes seeds to release from cones in large numbers and take root in the open, sunny patches.
Starting in 2015, researchers have noticed that more large sequoias have been killed in fires in higher numbers than ever recorded. This is due to the impacts of a warming climate. Six fires in six years – between 2015 and 2021 – have killed many sequoias in numerous groves across the Sierra Nevada. It is estimated that more than 85% of these groves have burned in wildfires since 2015 – compared to one quarter in all of the preceding century. This number could increase as it often takes years for a giant sequoia to die after a fire.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © arkanto/Shutterstock.com
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- Oregon State University, Available here: https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/sequoiadendron-giganteum
- Pacific Horticulture, Available here: https://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/natures-masterpiece-giant-sequoia
- National Park Service, Available here: https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/cook/sec5.htm
- University of Florida Extension, Available here: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ST589