Where Would You Find a Red Giant?
You would find a Red Giant on the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in North America. It is a huge redwood tree, called a giant sequoia. These trees, members of the conifer family, are the largest in the world and grow to a height of 300 feet. They have a very hard, reddish brown wood and a thick, very rough bark.
The giant sequoias, believed to be the oldest living things in the world. The ring marks on the stumps of the oldest trunks have been carefully counted and it is now known that some of the biggest are about 3,500 years old.
Many of these trees were cut down for their timber, which is resistant to attacks by fungus, and termites and other insects. To preserve the remaining groves of these huge redwoods, a reservation called the Sequoia National Park was set up in 1890.
The largest tree there is 279 feet high and has circumference at the base of its trunk of 101½ feet. Its weight has been estimated to be over 6,000 tons. Some of the other trees are taller but do not have such large trunks. A tunnel has been cut through the base of one of these giant trees which is big enough to drive a car through.
Sequoias bark is fibrous, furrowed, and may be 90 cm (3.0 ft) thick at the base of the columnar trunk. It provides significant fire protection for the trees. The leaves are evergreen, awl-shaped, 3–6 millimetres (0.12–0.24 in) long, and arranged spirally on the shoots.
The seed cones are 4–7 centimetres (1.6–2.8 in) long and mature in 18–20 months, though they typically remain green and closed for up to 20 years; each cone has 30–50 spirally arranged scales, with several seeds on each scale, giving an average of 230 seeds per cone.
The seed is dark brown, 4–5 millimetres (0.16–0.20 in) long and 1 millimetre (0.039 in) broad, with a 1-millimetre (0.039 in) wide, yellow-brown wing along each side. Some seeds are shed when the cone scales shrink during hot weather in late summer, but most are liberated when the cone dries from fire heat or is damaged by insects.
The giant sequoia regenerates by seed. Young trees start to bear cones at the age of 12 years. Trees up to about 20 years old may produce stump sprouts subsequent to injury, but unlike coast redwood, shoots do not form on the stumps of mature trees. Giant sequoias of all ages may sprout from their boles when branches are lost to fire or breakage.
At any given time, a large tree may be expected to have about 11,000 cones. Cone production is greatest in the upper portion of the canopy. A mature giant sequoia has been estimated to disperse 300,000–400,000 seeds per year. The winged seeds may be carried up to 180 metres (590 ft) from the parent tree.
Lower branches die fairly readily from shading, but trees less than 100 years old retain most of their dead branches. Trunks of mature trees in groves are generally free of branches to a height of 20–50 metres (66–164 ft), but solitary trees will retain low branches.
The natural distribution of giant sequoias is restricted to a limited area of the western Sierra Nevada, California. They occur in scattered groves, with a total of 68 groves (see list of sequoia groves for a full inventory), comprising a total area of only 144.16 km2 (35,620 acres). Nowhere does it grow in pure stands, although in a few small areas, stands do approach a pure condition.
The northern two-thirds of its range, from the American River in Placer County southward to the Kings River, have only eight disjunct groves. The remaining southern groves are concentrated between the Kings River and the Deer Creek Grove in southern Tulare County. Groves range in size from 12.4 km2 (3,100 acres) with 20,000 mature trees, to small groves with only six living trees. Many are protected in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The giant sequoia is usually found in a humid climate characterized by dry summers and snowy winters. Most giant sequoia groves are on granitic-based residual and alluvial soils. The elevation of the giant sequoia groves generally ranges from 1,400–2,000 m (4,600–6,600 ft) in the north, to 1,700–2,150 metres (5,580–7,050 ft) to the south. Giant sequoias generally occur on the south-facing sides of northern mountains, and on the northern faces of more southerly slopes.
High levels of reproduction are not necessary to maintain the present population levels. Few groves, however, have sufficient young trees to maintain the present density of mature giant sequoias for the future. The majority of giant sequoias are currently undergoing a gradual decline in density since European settlement.
While the present day distribution of this species is limited to a small area of California, it was once much more widely distributed in prehistoric times, and was a reasonably common species in North American and Eurasian coniferous forests until its range was greatly reduced by the last ice age. Older fossil specimens reliably identified as giant sequoia have been found in Cretaceous era sediments from a number of sites in North America and Europe, and even as far afield as New Zealand and Australia.