We love trees. You’ve heard it before: we literally rely on them to provide clean air. Unfortunately, deforestation (mostly from large-scale commercial agriculture, including cattle ranching, soybean, and palm cultivation) is a serious threat to the health of our world.
Between 1990 and 2020, over 420 million hectares of forest were destroyed, although the rate of deforestation has been decreasing. Still, today, there are over 1,400 species of trees that are listed as critically endangered and in need of urgent conservation efforts.
Certainly, if we want to ensure the future of our planet, we need to make a better effort to combat the corporations who are sponsoring the destruction of trees and to protect the forests that serve as the bases for our ecosystems.
Apart from being vital to the survival of our world, trees are also just so cool. They are the oldest living organisms on Earth and they literally cannot die of old age. That makes them one of the only potentially immortal organisms on the planet.
If immortality isn’t your jam, maybe you’ll find it cool that trees are also one of the only organisms from Earth that have ever lived in space. In 1971, the Apollo 14 mission brought tree seeds to the Moon and actually grew trees in outer space! How cool is that?
Also, in the event of an attack from insects, trees can flood their leaves with deterrent chemicals and then send signals to other trees to protect themselves the same way.
Yes, trees are essential to the survival of all species, they’re fascinating and complex organisms, and they’re among the most aesthetically pleasing parts of our environments. There’s nothing like staring up the trunk of a tree and admiring the centuries of history that led to the creation of these gargantuan organic structures.
While all trees are certainly impressive in their own right, there are some trees out there that are just mind-blowing in stature. But where is the tallest tree in the world? How about the widest tree in the world? The oldest tree? All of these questions and more will be answered in the passages that follow.
The Tallest Tree in the World
The world’s tallest known living tree is known as Hyperion, a coast redwood located in Redwood National Park along the coast of northern California. The tree stands at just over 380 feet tall. For reference, that’s about half as tall as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which I’d say is pretty damn impressive for something that’s grown naturally.
Hyperion, which is named after the Titan father of dawn, the sun, and the moon in Greek mythology, is believed to be about 600 years old by some estimates. Others claim that it may be as old as 800 years.
The second tallest (Helios) and third tallest (Icarus) trees in the world were also discovered in the same park. However, the exact locations of these trees have been kept a secret to protect them from anthropogenic harm.
Hyperion has already been threatened on a few occasions from similar harm. In the 1970s, lumberjacks clearcut up to only a few hundred feet from it, meaning that the tallest tree on Earth was almost cut down before it was protected by National Park status. It’s also believed that Hyperion has been victim to damage from woodpeckers which has prevented it from growing even taller than it already is.
The Oldest Tree in the World
The oldest known living tree in the world is known as Methuselah and it’s also located in California. Methuselah’s name comes from a biblical figure from the Book of Genesis who was said to have had the longest human lifespan at 969 years.
Methuselah is located high in the White Mountains of Inyo County in eastern California (within Inyo National Forest). Like Hyperion, the exact location of Methuselah has been kept secret to protect it from human destruction.
The Great Basin bristlecone pine is believed to be 4,852 years old, as of 2021, meaning that it would have been first germinated in the year 2833 BC. For reference, that would have been right around the time when the Great Pyramids were built in Egypt.
While Methuselah is certainly of impressive age, it wouldn’t be the oldest tree in the world if it weren’t, unfortunately, for the intervention of humans. A tree known as Prometheus, which was believed to have been first germinated in 2880 BC, was cut down in 1964, meaning that it would have been even older than Methuselah if it were still around today.
There are also clonal colonies that are far older than Methuselah. However, they’re considered a collection of organisms rather than one single organism.
The Biggest Tree in the World
We’ve already covered the tallest tree in the world, but we haven’t talked about the biggest tree in the world, also known as the tree with the greatest volume. That honor goes to a tree known as General Sherman.
The name of the General Sherman tree comes from the American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. As the story goes, the tree was named by naturalist James Wolverton who served under Sherman in the Union Army.
With a volume of 52,500 cubic feet, the largest tree in the world is located in Sequoia National Park. Unlike the other trees we’ve mentioned so far, however, the exact location of General Sherman is available to the general public. You can walk right up to the giant sequoia, take pictures with it, and even touch the over-2,000-year-old tree.
While General Sherman is the largest recorded tree that is still alive, it is not the largest recorded tree in history. The Lindsey Creek tree was far larger than General Sherman with a volume of over 90,000 cubic feet. However, it was uprooted by a storm in 1905. That must have been one massive storm for it to take out such a massive tree.
Another tree, known as the Crannell Creek Giant, was believed to have been about 20% larger by volume than General Sherman, but was cut down some time in the 1940s.
The Largest Canopy in the World
The tree with the largest recorded canopy in the world is located in Anantapur, India and is known as Thimmamma Marrimanu. The banyan tree has a canopy that covers over 19,100 square meters, or 4.7 acres.
The tree has definitely received some help from the local forestry service, though, as they make efforts to protect its young roots, support its larger roots, and even water it with an underground irrigation system.
Part of the reason that locals make such efforts to support Thimmamma Marrimanu is that it holds enormous religious significance for the people in this area of India. As the legend goes, a woman named Thimmamma threw herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, and so the tree sprung up from one of the poles used for the funeral pyre.
A small temple dedicated to Thimmamma is now located beneath the tree. Locals believe that if a childless couple goes to worship at this temple, they will receive a child the next year.
The Widest Trunk in the World
The tree with the widest trunk in the world is located in the Mexican state of Oaxaca and is known as Arbol de Tule. It’s a Montezuma cypress located on the church grounds in the center of the town of Santa Maria del Tule and its trunk has a circumference of about 138 feet.
The exact age of the tree is unknown, but most estimates place it somewhere between 1,200 and 3,000 years (while one estimate actually claims it may be as old as 6,000 years).
As the local Zapotec legend goes, an Aztec priest known as Pechocha planted the tree 1,400 years ago. The site of the tree was sacred to the Zapotec people but was later taken over by the Roman Catholic Church.