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The tallest, biggest, and oldest trees live in California

California's topography ranges from the jagged coastal bluffs along the Pacific, to its valleys and low lying coastal mountains, and then climbs up to the Sierras' high peaks.

Its climate is extreme, from the hot Death Valley (below sea level) to the towering Sierra Mountains reaching over 14,000 feet in elevation.

The Mediterranean climate of Southern California allows us to grow a broad spectrum of plants from all over the globe while our mountains support vast forests from oak woodlands to the coniferous pines throughout our state.

With this bio-diversity, California can claim some of the tallest, the biggest (by volume), and the oldest trees on the planet, primarily in the central and northern part of the state.

Our state tree is the glorious Redwood, which has the tallest trees globally. The growing range is from the Northern California border down to Santa Cruz and the Big Sur area along the winding Highway 101.

One of these Redwood trees has been documented to be over 378 feet in height and is still growing. That equates to a 30-story building, the size of the Statue of Liberty from ground level to the top of the golden torch.

Exploring the many Redwood state parks above San Francisco puts you into a fantastic realm of the wonders in nature. And to stand among these living giants is an incredible experience that one should have in a lifetime, for you will not forget it.

Sequoia sempervirens live in this narrow strip along the California coast with high rainfall and humidity. The dense fogs that blanket the forests are also a water source taken in through the tree leaves, which aids in sustaining its high lifestyle.

There is a great book titled "Luna," by Julia "Butterfly" Hill, who lived atop one of these Redwoods for two years in protest of a lumber company cutting a specific stand of these giants. It's a great read to appreciate the wonders of the Redwood trees and, yes, Hill saved those Redwood trees with the help of many supporters and nature advocates.

And as the crow flies over to the Sierra mountain range, we come to another Redwood species called sequoiadendron gigantea, the Sierra Redwoods. These trees are located in the Sequoia National Park, Tulare County, and are a must-see in one of your future summer or winter vacations.

These trees are also vast and tall, but their size is even more significant than the Coast Redwoods. One of its giants stands only approximately 274 feet in height, compared to its tree cousin on the coast. The base of this tree, however, is 37 feet across at ground level. And if that doesn't tell you something, you need to get your tape measure out and see for yourself.

The immense wood volume is considered the largest single stem tree on earth, and that's a lot of lineal board feet in lumber.

In this stand of giants is our National Christmas Tree, the General Grant Sequoia, and it is breathtaking to see it. Every year, a collection of nature lovers meet on a specific date in December to honor this tree and lay a holiday wreath at the base of the magnificent living giant.

A few years back, I had the great opportunity to be at this annual Christmas ceremony presented by the Sequoia park rangers with some friends. There was snow all around, but one did not mind that, for what we were experiencing was a treasure to behold for the rest of our lives.

If you would like to take the family up to this annual event, contact the Sanger Chamber of Commerce, for they have bus tours that will shuttle you up to the high mountains to be a part of this holiday celebration. After the wreath-laying event, you are bussed off to a lodge in the area for a tasty holiday buffet and then back to Sanger. It's a day trip all in one package to enjoy, and what a great day to have in your memory bank.

And now, as the crow flies over the tallest mountains in the Sierras, we travel to the White Mountain range just east of Lone Pine on Highway 395. We come to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which has some of the oldest trees globally, Pinus longvae at an average elevation of 9,000 feet.

In Inyo County, this mountain range is where these ancient trees have found their home and have grown for over 4,000 years in this windswept, rugged terrain in shale soil.

In the 50s, a dendrologist, Dr. Shulman, was trying to identify the oldest of this species and took a core sampling from what he suspected to be the oldest tree in that stand of pines. After boring (drilling with a specialized drill) and removing the cross-section core from the tree, he began the arduous task of counting the annual rings, one by one.

You can trek through this ancient primal forest on designated marked trails to be in awe of these trees, but the one they call Methuselah is not identified for fear of damage from vandals.

The winds up in this mountain range are gusting, and the trees have an eerie sculptural stature. The summers are hot, and the winters are cold with snow. So you ask yourself, what makes them tick? Upon looking at these windblown sculptures is a beautiful art form in nature; while the trunks of the trees appear to be half dead, there is a glitter of green needles that extends to the tips of some branches, and the tree grows on.

Now, I have taken you on a brief tree tour in California and we have learned a little about the tallest trees, the largest trees, and the oldest trees in the world; so what does that tell you, for they are all here in California.

I still ponder my admiration for the tree world daily, which is ever astonishing, and I learn something from trees every day in my craft as an international arborist.

"May the forests be with you."

Roger Boddaert is an ecological landscape designer and I.S.A. certified arborist caring for Fallbrook's trees for over 40 years.


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