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A genus of a single species, distinguished within the Taxodium family by the following combination of characters: leaves persistent, of two forms, needle-like and apparently two-ranked on lateral branchlets, scale-like and loosely appressed on leading and fertile shoots; male cones minute, solitary, terminal or axillary on short twigs. Female cones ripening first year, with up to twenty peltate scales, each bearing up to seven seeds. See also Sequoiadendron. It was once thought that Sequoia was widely distributed in the northern hemisphere in pre-glacial times, but since the discovery of Metasequoia it has come to be realised that many sequoia-like fossil remains belong to that genus and not to Sequoia.
The genus was named by Endlicher in 1847 in honour of the talented Sequoiah (d. 1843), son of a British trader and a Cherokee Indian woman. He devised an alphabet for the Cherokee tongue, thanks to which the tribe quickly became literate and even had a newspaper in their own language. But neither he, nor his tribe, ever lived within the area of the redwoods.