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California 'Big Trees' Focus of Campus Colloquium

The Webster's with the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park.
Hank and Marianne Webster in front of the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park. It is known as the largest (by volume) tree in the world. It measure just over 52,500 cubic feet, and is over 2,000 years old.
10/17/2012 —

Penn State DuBois Associate Professor of Biology, Emeritus, Hank Webster recently came back to campus to make an informative presentation on some of the biggest trees on earth, the Giant Sequoia and Coast Redwoods of California.   Webster and his wife, Marianne, made a trip to California this spring, where they got an up close look at these enormous trees.  Webster used the knowledge he gained about these impressive species to construct a presentation for the campus' Natural Resources Colloquium.  The colloquium is the periodic gathering of the natural resources scientific community on campus, which features lectures and discussions on topics in the realm of natural sciences.  The meetings are also open to all members of the public and campus community.

 

Webster fascinated his audience with personal photos of the trees he encountered at various locations, including Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and others.  With the images as a backdrop, projected onto a screen behind him, Webster noted some incredible statistics about the trees. Redwoods, he said, can grow to nearly 400 feet high and 26 feet in diameter, and live for 1,200 to 1,800 years or more. Sequoias can grow larger in volume, but usually not as tall. They can live up to 3,000 years.   Webster also shared some facts about the continued purposes these species serve in society, which many people may not realize.

 

"These trees are fire resistant, with thick bark.  They are rot resistant and insect resistant," Webster explained.  "These characteristics make them good for constructing outside furniture, like picnic tables.  They are still harvested commercially." 

 

In places like the national parks, however, the ancient giants are protected.  Many of the landmark trees are surrounded by fences, or stand beyond reach from designated walkways, so that visitors can look, but not touch. 

 

"In spite of their size, the root structures can be fragile," Webster said.  "They really don't like people walking around the bases of the trees."

 

Before there was the National Park Service, the Sequoia and Redwoods enjoyed the protection that their very size and physical makeup offered.  Early settlers who attempted to harvest the trees using traditional logging methods found that they not only were difficult to fell due to their size, but that also, once a tree impacted the ground, the lumber usually did not survive. Webster explained, "The wood is actually very brittle.  When the trees fell to the ground, they would simply splinter under such weight.  The settlers soon learned cutting the trees was not worth the effort." 

 

So, the Sequoia and Redwood forests of California still stand today, much the same as they were a thousand years ago, or more.  Not only are the natural wonders of such monumental trees there for visitors to view today, but cultures of the past have managed to find preservation under the canopy of the tall conifers, as well.  According to the National Park Service, in Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks alone, more than 500 Native American archeological sites and over 100 historical sites still exist, and will remain protected.

 

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