Hyperion, The World’s Tallest Living Tree

The tallest tree in the world is a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), named Hyperion after a person in Greek mythology. The tree is no less than 115.72 m (379.7 feet) tall! This enormous tree was discovered only in August 2006 in a remote part of Redwood National Park, California by naturalists Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor. Their first preliminary measurements were done with professional laser measurement equipment based on goniometry.
In September 2006 the tree was remeasured by Steve Sillett. This was done in the most accurate way: he climbed to the top of the tree to drop a tape from there straight to the ground. This tape drop was filmed for National Geographic.

In July 2006 some other record tall trees were discovered: “Helios” (named after the Greek God of the sun), the world’s tallest known tree as of June 2006 (114.09 m), “Icarus” (113.14 m), and “Daedalus” (110.76 m).

The discoveries of 2006 are remarkable: these trees appeared to grow on slopes and not in the center of the valleys where water is most abundant, and where all the previous contenders to the title “tallest living tree in the world” grow. This means that it’s not unlikely that there are even taller, not as such discovered trees out there, simply because people weren’t looking for them there. Now the forested slopes are being sought trough by tall tree hunters Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor. It’s on a location like that that in August 2006 the current tallest (known as such) tree of 115.72 m (379.7 feet) m was found [2] [3].
In 2007 Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor had already scanned most of these new, unexpected locations. They think it’s very unlikely a taller tree than Hyperion will be found, but you never know.

Hyperion has been quite lucky: only a few hundred feet from the base is the edge of a clearcut from the seventies. Clearcutting is a forestry practice in which all trees in an area are logged and the entire area is devastated. About two weeks before also Hyperion would have been attacked by the chain saws, this valley was added to the Redwood National Park during the Carter administration. Logging companies feared this would happen and worked 24/7 in the broad redwood valleys and kept logging old growth forests that were there long before men were ever entered these valleys.
In the seventies only an alarming 15% of the rich redwood forests remained, nowadays only 4% still exists and even today, as you read this, old growth Californian forests are being logged (more).

According to redwood standards, Hyperion is quite young and still growing vigorously. Sillett thinks the tree might be “only” 600 years old, which is about 20 years in human time [7].

Until July 2006 the tallest known Sequoia sempervirens was “The Stratosphere Giant” (image on the right). This tall tree measures 112.83 m (measured in 2004, Steve Sillett) en was only discovered in August 2000 (by Chris Atkins) in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, where a lot of these giants grow. It is very difficult to appreciate the majestic height of these trees from a photo. The image on the left gives a little bit a sense of scale: on the right you can see a person hanging on a climbing rope (click to view a larger version).

Just as is the case with other giants, like the “The Federation Giant” (112 m), the exact location is kept secret by the park rangers to avoid a tourist stampede to the tree. This could unbalance the fragile ecosystem of the forest and could harm the tree directly: in the past things already went wrong for tall trees that became too popular (see below).

In case you don’t have a clue about how tall 115.72 m (379.7 feet) is: the height of Big Ben in London is 96.3 m (316 feet), that of the statue of Liberty is 46.5 + 46.9 m (151 + 154 feet), so both tall constructions are largely lower than these trees.

Note that although the tallest living tree in the world is a coast redwood, the biggest living tree on the planet is a specimen of a related species, the giant sequoia. The largest giant sequoia is named “General Sherman“.

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