HUMANS are great admirers of size. We equate the biggest with the best: we love the highest mountains, the widest rivers, the deepest waterfalls. Gardeners are as much addicted as anyone, most of us cherish big magnolia and peony flowers.
We also admire big trees, so on a recent visit to California I naturally seized the opportunity of visiting two of the largest, the giant Coast Redwood and its close relation, the Wellingtonia or Big Tree.
Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the world’s tallest trees and occur in a narrow band within 50 kilometres of the fog-bound Californian coast, from southern Oregon to the Monterey Peninsula. They can reach a towering 115 metres with trunks up to 9m in diameter at shoulder height.
Wellingtonias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are slightly shorter, but qualify as the world’s biggest trees on account of their trunks, with basal buttresses that can take their diameter to 21m.
The species are similar in appearance, with high, narrow crowns – the Wellingtonia is maybe slightly denser – but are easily distinguished by their foliage. Coast Redwoods have ferny leaves closely resembling Yew (Taxus), with narrow needles arranged in opposite rows along the twigs. Wellingtonias have small, clustered, scale like leaves that are more like those of a cypress (Cupressus).
Both species have similar fibrous bark, bright reddish brown and heavily ridged with deep fissures. It is high in tannin, enabling trees to resist fire and insect attack.
The Coast Redwood was originally discovered by surgeon and plant hunter Archibald Menzies in 1794 and introduced to Britain via Russia in 1843. Although commercial logging since the 1850s has taken most trees from the wild, a few stands remain.
Muir Woods near San Francisco has groves with trees up to 60 metres in height, and fine trees up to 90 metres can be found between San Jose and Santa Cruz. The Wellingtonia grows further inland, in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and forests of trees over 100m in height can be seen in Yosemite National Park.
While it was a huge treat to see trees growing in the wild I had previously seen only in gardens and parks, you can enjoy the pleasure of walking in a Redwood forest without crossing the Pacific Ocean, as a splendid grove of Coast Redwoods was planted as a softwood logging experiment in the Aire Valley in the Otway Ranges in Western Victoria in the 1930s.
The trees are now about 60 metres high, and the Great Otway National Park was recently expanded to include them. As wood production is banned in the park, they are now safe from logging.
Coast Redwood and Wellingtonia both grow well on the NSW Tablelands, especially in areas of high rainfall. They can be planted from now until the end of winter. They like deep soil with good drainage and plenty of humus. A complete, slow release fertiliser in spring will get their root system off to a good start.
Coast Redwood and Wellingtonia both grow well on the NSW Tablelands, especially in areas of high rainfall. They can be planted from now until the end of winter. They like deep soil with good drainage and plenty of humus.