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Sequoiadendron giganteum (photo courtesy of Mark Turner)
Sequoiadendron giganteum (photo courtesy of Mark Turner)

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Zone
Zones 1-9, 14-23
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Sequoiadendron giganteum

Giant Sequoia, Big Tree
Cupressaceae
Evergreen, Trees

Among the world’s largest living things, giant sequoias can reach a towering 325 ft. and have the most massive trunk in the world (to 30 ft. in diameter), yet young trees (in terms of a 3,000-year life span) are neat, handsome trees for larger gardens, reaching 60–100 ft. tall and 30–50 ft. wide. Giant sequoia is closely related to coast redwood (Sequoia), but its mountainous native range, on the western slope of the central and southern Sierra Nevada, gives it much extra hardiness. It also grows more slowly (2–3 ft. a year) than its coastal relative and needs less water. Outside its natural habitat, this tree is subject to fungal diseases that can disfigure or kill it; it is often more successful in colder interior climates than near the coast.

Giant sequoia’s dense foliage is bushier than that of coast redwood. It is a somewhat prickly tree to reach into. Branchlets are clothed with short gray-green leaves; each leaf is a pointed scale overlapping the next, like prickly cypress (Cupressus) foliage. Dark reddish brown, oval, 2–3-in.-long cones. Lower branches hang on for many years, so that the tree form is a dense pyramid; lowest branches sometimes root where they touch the ground, forming secondary “trees” that blend into the original. Removing lower branches reveals a fissured, craggy-looking trunk covered in dark red-brown bark. In gardens, giant sequoia is primarily used as a featured tree in a large lawn (roots may surface there). Grow in good, deep, well-drained soil.

There are dozens of named varieties. ‘Glaucum’ has blue-green leaves. ‘Pendulum’ and ‘Barabit’s Requiem’ have irregular forms and strongly weeping branches. Both grow to about 25 ft. tall; ‘Pendulum’ can be kept to 6 ft. wide, while ‘Barabit’s Requiem’ grows a little wider and with a thicker trunk. ‘Bultinck Yellow’ has golden new growth and is slower (and ultimately smaller) than the species. ‘Albospica’ is a dwarf variegated form that grows 4 in. per year.

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