The base of the ‘President’, Oldest living sequoia.

Not the Biggest, Not the Tallest, Not the Widest - So What Makes this Giant Sequoia The ‘President’?

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‘President’ is the name given to a giant sequoia located in the Sequoia National Park, USA. According to measurements taken by researchers, President is the second largest tree in the world. Even more impressive is perhaps the estimation that this tree is over 3 millennia old, which makes it the oldest known living giant sequoia. To put this into perspective, this tree was alive when Egypt was ruled by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, when China was under the Shang Dynasty, and when the Olmec culture was flourishing in Mesoamerica.

Growing a Giant

‘President’ was named in 1923 after Warren G. Harding, who was the 29 th President of the USA. This giant can be found in the Giant Forest, which is situated within the Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada, California. Like all other giant sequoias, ‘President’ started its life as a tiny seed. According to the website of the National Park Service, “91,000 sequoia seeds weigh just 1 pound (which is just about 450 g)”.

Cones and seed of the Sequoiadendron giganteum

Cones and seed of the Sequoiadendron giganteum ( Public Domain )

The conditions of the soil need to be suitable, i.e. bare and rich in minerals, before the sequoia seeds are able to germinate. Fires, for example, play an important role in the germination of the sequoia seeds, as they remove undergrowth and make the soil bare for the seeds. In addition, fires cause nutrients in the soil to be recycled, which is another requirement for the seeds to germinate. Whilst fires release the seeds from their cones, this may also be aided by animals, such as Douglas squirrels and the larvae of a tiny cone-boring beetle.

The President, in Sequoia National Park

The President, in Sequoia National Park ( Public Domain )

Once they germinate, giant sequoias can live for over three millennia. ‘President’, for example, is the oldest known living giant sequoia, and it has been estimated that it is about 3200 years old. Giant sequoias are able to live so long as they have survived most, if not all of the threats that could kill them. The secret to this lies in a chemical called tannin, which is found in high concentrations in the tree’s bark. This compound protects the trees from fungal rot, boring insects, as well as fire.

The Ever Present Threat

One factor that may end a giant sequoia’s life is logging. The labour involved in felling and processing these trees, however, cost more than the value of its wood, hence, they are not the preferred type of tree for chopping down. In the case of ‘President’, being situated in a National Park provides further protection from loggers. Apart from that root rot or some other factors causing the weakening of the giant sequoia’s base may be indirectly responsible for the death of these trees.

Giant sequoia

Giant sequoia, USA ( CC BY 2.0 )

Some Other Candidates

It may be pointed out that ‘President’ is not the oldest living tree in the world. For example, until 2013, the oldest known living tree in the world was a Great Basin bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California known as ‘Methuselah’. This tree was found to be almost 5000 years old. Another bristlecone pine in the same area was later found to be slightly over 5 millennia old, thus making it the oldest known living tree. Still, ‘President’ has been found to be the second largest tree in the world. According to measurements made a few years ago, the trunk of ‘President’ has a volume of 54000 cubic feet (about 1530 cubic m). Incidentally, the largest tree in the world is another giant sequoia in the Sequoia National Park known as ‘General Sherman’. This tree, however, is about 2100 years old.

The researchers who were measuring ‘President’ also found that it had been growing wider at a consistent rate. This was a surprising discovery for the researchers, as it was previously thought that the rate of growth of these huge trees decreased with age.

The President might only be the second largest tree by trunk mass in the world, but it could be argued that it’s 1100 year seniority over General Sherman gives it the title of the mightiest.

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