Under Threat in Their Native California, Giant Sequoias Are Thriving in Britain

A giant sequoia in Bromyard, England.

A giant sequoia in Bromyard, England. Derek Harper via Geograph

Worsening drought and wildfires in California are pushing giant sequoias, the biggest trees on Earth, into decline. But sequoias that have been planted in Britain are flourishing, new research finds.

“The history of these trees in Britain is fascinating — initially as symbols of wealth and power, through to now being widely planted in parks and woodlands,” said Mat Disney, a researcher at University College London and coauthor of the new study. “I find it amazing to see these giants dotted across the landscape and see how rapidly they are growing.”

First introduced to country estates in the 19th century, half a million sequoias now grow in Britain, compared to just 80,000 along the western flank of the Sierra Nevada in California, where they are increasingly imperiled by warming. Up to a fifth of all large giant sequoias in California died in wildfires in 2020 and 2021.

The trees in Britain are still relatively young — sequoias can live for more than 3,000 years — and squat. The tallest of them measures around 180 feet, while full-grown sequoias in California can reach more than 300 feet. But the new research, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that in Britain’s cool, mild climate, sequoias are growing nearly as fast as in California. Further, the trees examined in the study are each removing around 190 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere on average each year.

“Currently, these trees are probably more important for their aesthetic and historical interest than they are for solving the climate crisis,” Disney said. “But as more are planted we need to know how they will grow.”


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