Between the heavy pine and silver fir zones towers the Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea), the king of all the conifers in the world, "the noblest of the noble race." (John Muir)
How do you choose a tree that will benefit the planet and your family for generations to come? This short article will share resources and ideas to consider when choosing your trees. Hopefully, it will inspire you to invest in and tend to monumental trees in your community.
A Personal Journey
Over 50 years ago, my father planted two Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant blue sequoia) in our home’s backyard in Salt Lake City, Utah. I moved away from these two trees 33 years ago and my family left that home 18 years ago. Still, I enjoy driving past and can see the trees from the street. At 50 years old, the trees are just seedlings and have a very long life ahead of them. I grew up spending summer days in our vegetable garden doing chores and cooling off under the shade they offered. My father would spray down the branches, causing an evaporative cooling effect, and filling the surrounding air with the smell of petrichor. It was a truly magical time.
These memories left a lasting impression. Twenty-five years ago, I built a small home for my new family. I started with a small lot north of where I grew up. Being my father's son, I found a sequoia to plant and did so in the middle of my backyard. I dreamt of an eventual pond and natural garden. Today, I’m happy to report I have achieved those dreams. My tree is now over 50 feet tall and 156 inches around at the base of the trunk. The bottom branches are trimmed high enough that I can easily walk under them to be close to the trunk, sit under the tree, meditate, and watch the fish in the nearby pond.
I’ve shared my passion with my neighbors over the years. I have raised awareness and purpose about the long life the tree will have after I am gone. My children often talk about making sure the home remains in the family to keep alive and extend the green mission that was planted along with it. The tree is a significant contributor to my family, and helps offset our carbon footprint.
A thought that often comes to mind as I sit under her branches is how much she does for the environment. For example, the tree has hit the water table. I know this because of the shrinking water demands it takes to keep it watered. Approaching the tree, you can feel the change in the microclimate. We use far less power to keep our home cool, and the other plants need far less water to stay healthy. We spend our time under her branches all summer long. We watch ferns, moss, hellebores, hostas, and other plants thrive under her watch.
I recently discovered sequoias have been added to the endangered species list. Fires have taken so many of these trees from us over the last two years. I looked for information from others growing these giants and discovered several are planted around the country. Some were planted in gardens during the American Civil War. Because of their endangered status, some sequoias are being relocated to colleges and arboretums to better preserve and care for them.
Seeds were sent “home” when some of the first environmentalists like John Muir discovered the groves of the giants in California. In the United Kingdom, several large groves have grown from those same seeds. These groves are great contributors to the climate fight we find ourselves in.
Know Before You Plant
Would you like to plant a tree to offset climate change and your carbon footprint? There are many great resources to discover the right tree for your home. Most of the time, you will find information about the contribution a particular type of tree can make. Most methods take several measurements to see how much a tree contributes to the carbon dilemma. Height, canopy, and trunk size are common factors. Using this information, you can get a good idea of how much carbon the tree can contribute. Take a look at this neat program.
For the most part, trees live far longer than we do. While there are many ecological benefits to planting a tree like a sequoia, there is one human benefit we should not overlook — the tree’s life potential to span human generations. Think about this: Most poplar trees will live to the average age of just under 100 years. Some can live to 250, but that is quite rare. So with the average human generation being 25 years, this tree will be around for four or so generations. Compare this to the sequoia, which can live well over 2500 years. If we assume a short life of 1500 years, we have a tree that could live for 60 generations. I am willing to bet that a tree passed down 3 or 4 generations will be protected and become precious to that family, and the coming generations will serve to strengthen that bond.
Planting native trees is a wise choice. Looking at trees that can score high on the four measurements mentioned, you will find some you like. Don't be surprised to encounter websites centered around your dream tree, with locations of specimens you can go to see and find out if there are special care instructions. Sequoias do well in my state and zone. In 25 years, I have not had to do anything special to keep my tree alive. I do, however, spoil her with healthy pond water and love. I hope you can find a tree this hardy for your area.
The sequoia at the John Tyler Arboretum in Philadelphia is an excellent example of people protecting champion trees. The tree was planted in 1856 on the family land. It has lived through a topping (cutting the top of a tree) for a Christmas tree, causing it to form several new leading trunks. It now lives behind fencing with a lightning rod.
Inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. Being open to the work necessary to make complex changes can seem impossible. Human nature seems to fall into two camps: one waits for a comfortable place to jump in and help, and another wants 100% proof that any money or energy spent will work exactly how they want it to.
The group that decides to act now looks at the world's needs and starts to make small changes that will begin to leave our planet in better shape. Ideas that help need to become part of our culture. It will take all of us to make that happen and no one idea or act is a solution. But heroes start, even if it’s in small ways. Our efforts must become rooted in our culture so that it is common to act in defense of our planet.