Gaze up into a Giant sequoia. Let your imagination soar. Fully grown, they are the largest living things on the planet. Their ancestors stood among dinosaurs. Today, the Giant sequoia is found naturally in fewer than 100 groves in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Giant sequoias were planted in Beacon Hill Park. Look for them along Circle Drive (behind you) and just off the Goodacre Lake path.
Shaped by Fire
Lightning-sparked forest fires are common in the mountains of California. The thick, spongy bark of mature Giant sequoias shields them from serious fire damage. Ground fires cannot reach the cones at the crown of the tree, but the heat of the fire forces them open to release their seeds, helping them to grow. Shrubs and smaller trees are destroyed by ground fires, allowing sunlight to reach the shade intolerant Giant sequoia seedlings. From fire comes new growth.
Did You Know?
Giant sequoia cones can remain closed and the seeds alive for 20 to 30 years. Eventually the seeds will be released from the heat of forest fire, cone damage in a windstorm, or torn out by feeding animals such as squirrels.
Living Reminders of Early Victoria
You may notice Giant sequoias towering majestically above many Victoria neighbourhoods. These are remnants of an early trend when the wealthy residents wanted the prestige of the legendary trees in their gardens. One day in 1889, a group of citizens planted 2,000 trees in Beacon Hill Park, including 50 Giant sequoias. Imported from California by R.P. Rithet & Company, Robert Rithet himself oversaw the planting and said, "I am certain they will succeed." More than a century later, some of those trees remain deeply rooted in the park and the history of this city.
Giant sequoia Facts
Common Names: Giant sequoia, Sierra Redwood
Latin Name: (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
Related Species in Beacon Hill Park: Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)
Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Long Lived: The oldest on record is more than 3,500 years old; the largest living is the General Sherman tree in California at 84 metres (275 feet) - the height of a 27 storey building!
Cones a Plenty: Giant sequoias average 200 seeds in each cone. Mature trees produce about 2000 cones per year. Larger mature trees may produce up to 50,000 cones.
Imported: Between 1860 and 1890, Giant sequoias were supplied to Victoria by three main sources: R.P. Rithet & Company, Layritz Nurseries Ltd., Samuel Price & Company.
Not for Sale
From the late 1800s to the 1920s, Giant sequoias were logged in California with only mild success. Desired for their size and rot resistant wood, logging companies soon discovered that the wood was also fibrous and brittle. When felled, the trees sometimes shattered upon hitting the ground. Instead of grand buildings, many Giant sequoias were instead milled into shingles and matchsticks. Eventually, land was set aside to protect most of the remaining groves. Today, tourism, rather than forestry, is their chief economic value.
A Fine Balance
The Giant sequoias in Beacon Hill Park are young and small. Planted around the late 1800s to early 1900s, there trees are about 100 years old. They do not reach full height until they are 500 to 700 years old. For balance, roots grasp for other roots, trunks and branches grow thicker with age. Giant sequoias may live more than 3,000 years. Falling over due to high winds is usually how their life ends.