Sequoias are members of the cypress family. The trees can live over 2,000 years, reaching 379 feet tall with a base of 23 feet. The trees are conifers and are the tallest trees in the world. They are almost completely confined to the California Coast and parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Cultivation has been successful in Scotland and other European countries. The plants have been around since the Jurassic period and are one of the oldest species on earth.
There are three types of sequoia. The Dawn Redwood or Metasequoia, is a deciduous conifer that grows very quickly. The California or Coastal Redwood is confined to the northern part of California. The Giant Sequoia can grow 1 to 2 feet per year until it reaches a couple of hundred feet and then slows down. It also has bark 4 feet thick.
The needles of a Sequoia are similar to leaves. They are formed like a double-edged sword and occur in a flat plane. The needles are bluish-green in mature trees, but stay greener in younger saplings.
The cones are made up of thick, wrinkled scales and can be up to 3 inches long. A mature tree can have 11,000 cones on it, each one carrying 300,000 to 400,000 seeds. Fires are very important to the distribution of the seeds, as they cause the cones to open up and clean out competing vegetation on the forest floor,leaving a rich humus for the seed to sprout.
The trunk of a sequoia is much like any tree trunk. It has an outer bark, an inner bark called the phloem, the cambium, the sapwood and then the heartwood. It has roots at the base of the tree to intake nutrition and water, and a vascular system that moves the food up to the very highest point of the tree. Sequoia bark is fire retardant and has pest- and fungus-resistant properties.
Heavy logging in the Gold Rush era and subsequent building of cities caused many of the redwood forests to die out. This is why they are confined to such a small area. The trees are a national symbol in the U.S. and are protected by the federal government. It is against the law to cut down or damage a sequoia.