Big Wood
February 25, 2005 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Sequoiadendron giganteum, the giant sequoia, is arguably the largest living thing on earth. The second largest specimen, the Washington Tree, has recently been getting shorter. It's top was discovered to be hollow in 1999--a researcher rappeled over 100 feet into the trunk--which is why its been vulnerable to fire and storms in recent years. The before and after pictures show its transformation from a tree into, well, a great big stump. But don't count it out just yet. Scientists think this old bugger may bounce back. Still, it's probably time for a visit, don't you think?
posted by donovan (8 comments total)
or perhaps, not the largest... just saying....
posted by HuronBob at 5:47 PM on February 25, 2005

By estimating (very conservatively, I might add) the growth rate of the fungus under their natural conditions and by extrapolating the weight of the clone from smaller soil samples (again very conservatively), Smith et al. found the clone to be at least 1500 years old and weigh at least 9,700 kg (more than 21,000 pounds or 100 tons), close to the mass of an adult blue whale. They compared the mass to that of a giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) estimated to be about 1,000 tons, most of which is dead xylem tissue.

Perhaps not the largest but quite possibly still the most massive. :)
posted by SpaceBass at 6:38 PM on February 25, 2005

The verdict is in: Giant Sequoias are the light weight of the natural world. But damn, something that's been around for 2-3,000 years deserves some respect.

Sequoias: We weigh less, but we're older. Take that fungus!
posted by donovan at 6:41 PM on February 25, 2005

I have some Giant Sequoias in my yard. They are... much smaller.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 7:26 PM on February 25, 2005

In point of fact, the quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides, is probably both the most massive and oldest living thing in the natural world. Athough the trees can germinate by seed, reproduction is primarily asexual; most new aspens are natural clones which sprout directly from the root system if the parent tree. Not only are the clones genetically identical to the parent, they are physically connected, via the root system, to the older trees. A grove of quaking aspens, therefore, makeup a single organism, much like the Armillaria ostoyae to which HuronBob links. Although the individual aspen clones are, well, tree-sized, a single grove-organism, composed of as many as 50,000 individual clones, can cover hundred of acres and weigh thousands of tons. Estimates of age range from tens of thousands to over one million years.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:04 PM on February 25, 2005

Nature is awfully amazing.
posted by Bear at 9:23 PM on February 25, 2005

I knew about the Armillaria ostoyae but had no idea about the aspen. The things you learn on Metafilter...
posted by Termite at 5:44 AM on February 26, 2005

There was an incredible article by Richard Preston in the recent anniversary edition of the New Yorker about discovering the canopy-world of coastal redwoods (tallest if not largest) in the company of Humboldt State Prof. Steve Sillett. Unfortunately not online.
posted by Zurishaddai at 8:40 AM on February 26, 2005

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