Sequoiadendron giganteum (Lindl.) Buchholz

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Sequoiadendron giganteum' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-02-24.

Common Names

  • Big-tree
  • Sierra Redwood
  • Wellingtonia
  • Giant Redwood


  • Wellingtonia gigantea Lindl., nom. illegit.
  • Sequoia gigantea (Lindl.) Decne. (1854), not Endl. (1847)
  • Washingtonia californica Winslow, nom. prov.
  • Taxodium washingtonium (sic) Winslow
  • Sequoia wellingtonia Seem.
  • Sequoia washingtoniana (Winslow) Sudworth


Other taxa in genus


    Small branch or twig usually less than a year old.
    A group of genera more closely related to each other than to genera in other families. Names of families are identified by the suffix ‘-aceae’ (e.g. Myrtaceae) with a few traditional exceptions (e.g. Leguminosae).
    A collection of preserved plant specimens; also the building in which such specimens are housed.
    (sect.) Subdivision of a genus.
    Generally an elongated structure arising from the ovary bearing the stigma at its tip.


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    Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

    Recommended citation
    'Sequoiadendron giganteum' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-02-24.

    An evergreen tree, reaching ultimately from 250 to almost 300 ft in height, and forming a trunk 20 to 30 ft through at the enlarged, buttressed base. Bark 1 to 2 ft thick, rich brown-red, and of a fibrous spongy, texture. The head of branches in old trees commences at 100 to 150 ft from the ground, and consists of comparatively short, horizontal or drooping branches. The final ramifications of the branches are much divided, the ends forming a dense, bushy cluster of branchlets. Leaves varying in length from 18 to 12 in. long, but always more or less awl-shaped, triangular in section, tapering from the broad base (by which it is attached to, and extends down the branchlet) to a fine point. They are blue-green and always point forward, adhering for four or five years to the branchlet, which in the early stages they completely cover. Cones 112 to 3 in. long, 114 to 2 in. wide; seeds pale shining brown, 18 to 14 in. long, flattened. Bot. Mag., tt. 4777–8.

    Native of California on the western side of the Sierra Nevada from around 39° N to just below 36° N, mostly at altitudes between 4,500 and 7,000 ft, but ascending to over 8,000 ft in the southern part of its range. The northernmost stands are few and are widely separated by the sites of ancient glaciers which the big-tree never succeeded in colonising after the retreat of the ice. But south of the King’s River (around 37° N) the range is more continuous and the finest and purest stands are to be found in this region, in Fresno and Tulare counties.

    The first European to see the big-tree was probably John Bidwell, who passed through the Calaveras stand in autumn 1841, after he had become separated from the party with which he was crossing the Sierra from the United States into California, then still part of Mexico. He did not report his find at the time and more pressing matters prevented a second visit (Garden and Forest, Vol. 2 (1889), p. 614). There was probably more than one further sighting during the next ten years, but the existence of the big-trees first became known to the scientific world in 1852, when Dr Kellogg showed specimens to the newly formed California Academy of Sciences, which he had received from J. M. Hutchins, a settler in the Yosemite valley. These were also seen by William Lobb, then plant-hunting for Messrs Veitch, and in the autumn of 1853 he collected and brought home material from which Lindley described the new species, as Wellingtonia gigantea, in the Gardeners’ Chronicle for December 24. Lobb’s account of the Calaveras stand appeared at the same time: ‘From 80 to 90 trees exist, all within the circuit of a mile, and these varying from 250 feet to 320 feet in height and from 10 to 20 feet in diameter … A tree recently felled measured about 300 ft in length with a diameter, including bark, 29 feet 2 inches at 5 feet from the ground … Of this vegetable monster, 21 feet of the bark, from the lower part of the trunk, have been put in the natural form in San Francisco for exhibition; it there forms a spacious carpeted room, and contains a piano, with seats for 40 persons. On one occasion 140 children were admitted without inconvenience.’

    The felled tree mentioned by Lobb was reckoned to be about 3,000 years old. ‘That is to say,’ commented Lindley, ‘it must have been a little plant when Sampson was slaying the Philistines, or Paris running away with Helen, or Aeneas carrying off good pater Anchises upon his filial shoulders.’ The great age imputed to the big-trees has been questioned on the grounds that a tree may make more than one growth-ring in a single season. But it now seems to be generally accepted that some of the largest trees are indeed 3,000 years old, even 4,000.

    The Calaveras stand, which lies in the Sierra east by north of San Francisco, was the first to be exploited as a tourist attraction – a chalet-style hotel had been built by 1855 and the butt of a felled tree converted into a dance-floor. It and the Mariposa Grove some fifty miles to the south were the stands most visited by 19th-century travellers. The latter, now in the Yosemite National Park, has as its largest tree the ‘Grizzly Giant’, though this cannot compare with others in the southern groves.

    The finer and more extensive stands south of 37° N, discovered early in the 1860s, have suffered the most devastation. In an address to the Royal Institution in 1878 Sir Joseph Hooker said: ‘The doom of these noble groves is sealed. No less than five saw-mills have recently been established in the most luxuriant of them, and one of these mills alone cut in 1875 two million feet of Big-tree lumber … The devastation of the Californian forest is proceeding at a rate which is utterly incredible, except to an eye-witness … before a century is out the two sequoias may be known only as herbarium specimens and garden ornaments; indeed, with regard to the Big-tree, the noblest of the noble coniferous race, the present generation, which actually witnessed its discovery, may live to say of it “The place which knew it shall know it no more.” ‘

    Fortunately, Hooker’s prediction has not been fulfilled. By the end of the century the conservationists had prevailed, and most of the remaining stands of the big-tree are now under some form of public ownership or protection. The most active and influential of the conservationists was the splendid John Muir (1838–1914), born at Dunbar, East Lothian, who emigrated with his family to the USA in 1849. He had been agitating for a policy of forest conservation since the 1870s, and it was probably he who provided Hooker with some of the material for his lecture. The most extensive of the remaining southern stands is the Giant Forest in the Sequoia National Park, its most notable tree ‘General Sherman’, 272 × 10112 ft at 412 ft (1955), with a branch at 130 ft which is 7 ft in diameter. ‘General Grant’, in the King’s Canyon National Park a short way to the north is only slightly smaller. Despite many statements to the contrary it seems that no measured standing tree is as much as 300 ft in height, though heights of 275 ft are frequent in the southern groves.

    The section of a big-tree in the British Museum of Natural History in South Kensington came from ‘Mark Twain’, which was the only good tree remaining in a ravaged stand south-east of Fresno, owned by the King’s River Lumber Company. It was felled to provide the section, originally part of the Jesup Collection of North American Woods, which is now displayed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This is the lowest section, and the South Kensington section immediately adjoined it, at about 18 ft from the ground (For the felling of ‘Mark Twain’ see Garden and Forest, Vol. 7 (1892), p. 541).

    It is ironic that the timber of the big-tree, though virtually everlasting, is too brittle to be of much value, and brought little profit to the lumber companies. Much of it was simply used to make roof-shingles and fencing for the settlers in the foothills, whose grazing animals completed the destruction that axe and saw had begun.

    There were two introductions of S. giganteum to Britain in 1853. The first was to Scotland, by John Mathew, who collected seeds in August, which he sent to his father Patrick Mathew of Gourdiehall, Perthshire. From this sending most of the oldest trees in Scotland probably derive. The second, and more important one, was by William Lobb, who, in addition to the botanical material, brought home a quantity of seed for Messrs Veitch. Sown at once, it germinated well, and Veitch started to send out seedlings in summer 1854, charging two guineas for one, six guineas for four and twelve guineas a dozen. On some properties the seedlings were put out in their final positions in the spring of 1855 – only eighteen months after Lobb collected the seeds. Heights of up to 7 ft were reported in autumn 1857 and up to 912 ft in the following year.

    Coming from altitudes where the temperature frequently drops below zero Fahrenheit, and the growing season is short, S. giganteum is perfectly hardy with us and grows well over much of the country in deep soil and a sheltered but not too shaded position (it is much less shade-tolerant than the coastal redwood). The following is a very short selection from the trees measured by Alan Mitchell: Rhinefield, New Forest, Hants, 155 × 2412 ft (1975); Wellingtonia Avenue, near Wellington College, Berks, pl. 1869, 108 × 2234 ft (1969) – this avenue was planted by John Walter III, owner of The Times newspaper and grandson of its founder; Stratfield Saye, Hants, pl. 1857, 118 × 2414 ft (1968); Shirley Hall, Kent, 110 × 2434 ft (1968); Cowdray Park, Sussex, pl. 1870, 118 × 2812 ft (1973); Crichel House, Dorset, 112 × 2912 ft (1971); Westonbirt, Glos., 145 × 21 ft (1971); Oakley Park, Shrops, 111 × 25 ft (1971); Whiteways House, Chudleigh, Devon, 108 × 2612 ft (1975); Woodhouse, Lyme Regis, Devon, 158 × 2214 ft (1970); Bodnant, Denb., pl. 1888, 132 × 1534 ft (1966); Powis Castle, Montgom., 112 × 2814 ft (1970); Taymouth Castle, Perths., pl. 1856, 157 × 2314 ft (1970); Dunkeld House, Perths., pl. 1857, 149 × 22 ft (1970); Scone Palace, Perth, pl. 1866, 115 × 2634 ft (1970); Dupplin (Gardens), Perths., 144 × 1814 ft (1970); Castle Leod, Ross-shire, pl. 1854, 150 × 26 ft (1966); Balmacaan House, Invern., 95 × 27 ft (1970); Benmore, Argyll, in Avenue, 143 × 2034 ft and 157 × 1734 ft (1975); Castelwellan, Co. Down, 111 × 25 ft (1976); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, by river, 115 × 27 ft (1975).

    The following younger trees show rate of growth in less than optimum conditions: National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1926, 77 × 15 ft (1974); Forest Research Station, Alice Holt, Hants, pl. 1951, 58 × 7 ft (1976).

    From the Supplement (Vol. V)

    specimens: Cowdray Park, Sussex, pl. 1870, 115 × 2912 ft (1984); Tilgate Park, Sussex, 105 × 2612 ft (1984); Beauport, Sussex, 141 × 2512 ft (1981); Stratfield Saye, Hants, pl. 1857, 111 × 2434 ft and, pl. 1855, 121 × 2634 ft (1982); Shirley Hall, Kent, 121 × 2814 ft (1982); Wellingtonia Avenue, near Wellington College, Berks., pl. 1869, 138 × 2714 ft, 98 × 2714 ft, 150 × 1612 ft and 138 × 2714 ft (1984); Forestry Commission, Rhinefield Drive, New Forest, 155 × 2534 ft (1982); Westonbirt, Glos., 141 × 2112 ft, disbranched, (1980); Woodhouse, Lyme Regis, Dorset, 153 × 2414 ft (1982); Oakley Park, Shrops., 108 × 2612 ft (1977); Hutton-in-the-Forest, Cumb., 115 × 3012 ft (1985); Bodnant, Gwyn., pl. 1876, 144 × 2034 ft and, pl. 1888, 153 × 1734 ft (1984); Powis Castle, Powys, 124 × 3112 ft (1984); Myarth, Powys, in line by road to The Gliffaes, 164 × 23 ft and 144 × 2634 ft (1984); Dolmelynllyn Hotel, Gwyn., 156 × 2914 ft (1984); Dumfries House, Ayrs., 108 × 2834 ft (1984); Glenlee Park, Kirkcud., 167 × 24 ft (1984); Stuckgowan, Dumbart., 164 × 1612 ft (1982); Benmore, Argyll, Avenue, 156 × 2112 ft and 164 × 19 ft, Lawn, 105 × 24 ft (1983); Kilmaron Castle, Fife, pl. 1874, 118 × 2412 ft (1983); Taymouth Castle, Perths., pl. 1856, 164 × 2514 ft (1983); Dunkeld House, Perth, pl. 1857, 135 × 24 ft (1981); Scone Palace, Perths., pl. 1866, 132 × 2834 ft (1981); Dupplin (Gardens), Perths., pl. 1860, 111 × 2514 ft (1983); Drummond Castle, Perths., 138 × 2834 ft (1985); Lawers House, Comrie, Perths., 135 × 2834 ft (1985); Princeland, Coupar Angus, Perths., 105 × 34 ft (1985); Cluny Garden, Aberfeldy, Perths., 118 × 3414 ft (1985); Cortachy Castle, Angus, pl. 1870, 135 × 2534 ft (1981); Cluny Castle, Banff, pl. 1868, 95 × 2712 ft (1985); Altyre, Moray, 132 × 2634 ft (1981); Balmacaan, Inv., 95 × 2914 ft (1980); Beaufort Castle, Inv., 144 × 2312 ft (1985); Achnagarry, Inv., 160 × 2314 ft (1982); Coul House, E. Ross, pl. 1854, 155 × 2412 ft (1982); Foulis Castle, E. Ross, 111 × 2734 ft (1983); Tarbet House, W. Ross, pl. 1868, 118 × 2634 ft (1983); Castle Leod, E. Ross, pl. 1854, 169 × 2812 ft (1985); Castlewellan, Co. Down, 121 × 26 ft (1982); Caledon Castle, Co. Tyrone, 164 × 2214 ft (1985); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, North Terrace, 124 × 23 ft (1982).

    Younger trees, to show rate of growth: Cracknell, Great Yeldham, Essex, pl. 1970, 30 × 512 ft (1985); R.H.S. Garden, Wisley, Surrey, near main road, pl. 1956, 70 × 834 ft (1980); Brookwood Necropolis, Surrey, Australian memorial, pl. 1945, 85 × 1312 ft (1985); Forest Research Station, Alice Holt, Hants, pl. 1951, 62 × 814 ft (1982); Land of Nod, Headley, Hants, pl. 1905, 98 × 19 ft (1977); National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1926, 82 × 1812 ft (1985); Rosemoor, Devon, pl. 1967, 40 × 514 ft (1984); Sidbury Manor, Devon, pl. 1937, 70 × 1214 ft (1977); Bodnant, Gwyn., pl. 1903, 111 × 1912 ft (1981).

    cv. ‘Aureum. – There is an example of this cultivar at Batsford Park, Glos., and another at Nymans, Sussex, that may belong to it.

    † cv. Pendulum. – specimens: Brooklands, Langport, Som., 62 × 814 ft (1982); Fitz Park, Keswick, Cumb., 66 × 614 ft (1979); Bodnant, Gwyn., 105 × 814 ft (1984); Inverary Castle, Argyll, 100 × 8 ft (1982).


    An extraordinary tree with an erect leader and weeping branches hanging close to the stem, forming a narrow spire. It originated at Nantes in 1863. The best known example is in the Allard Arboretum near Angers, and the tallest in this country, at Bodnant, measures 100 × 7{1/2} ft (1974). Sometimes the main stem leans or undulates and gives off some more or less vertical branches. These weird forms, Mr Hillier tells us, are the result of grafting on Sequoia sempervirens.S. giganteum is usually propagated by means of seeds. They germinate readily when fresh or after stratification, but the seedlings are subject to attack by Grey Mould (Botrytis cinerea), especially if grown in too close conditions; many of the seedlings sent out by Veitch were lost in this way. Cuttings strike fairly readily, but are slow to form a leader if taken from side-branches. The cultivars are propagated by grafting on stocks of the species; S. sempervirens is sometimes used as the stock, but does not give satisfactory results (see above).