The Ghost Giant

1      Coast Redwoods Over 50,000 Cubic Feet Volume – Ghosts of the Past?

Have you seen the images of the redwood giants of the past, such as the 70,000 cubic foot Crannell Creek Giant?    Or maybe the 393 foot tall Lindsay Creek tree, which is alleged to have been 90,000 cubic feet volume.  Today, living redwoods approach the record heights of the past.  For example the height of Hyperion redwood at 380 feet attains 97% of the 393 foot height stated for the Lindsay Creek tree.  However the largest volume redwood, Spartan aka Grogan’s Fault, with 41.3 thousand cubic feet of volume, is just 60% of the volume of the Crannell Giant, which was accurately measured.  Why is this, why are all the largest of the redwood giants gone?  Or are they?

2      Tall Redwood Surprises

When I was I kid in the late 1960’s I was always interested in superlatives, including the tallest tree.  I remember reading heights for the tallest redwood given as 363 feet or 367 feet.  But right around that time there was an unannounced discovery of a 385 foot redwood growing on a flat along Redwood Creek near the Bond Creek outflow.  This tree was one of the last to be cut down along lower Redwood Creek before the establishment of Redwood National Park in 1968.

Starting around 2000 there was a new round of tall tree discoveries as laser range finders made it easier to identify tall trees. Hyperion and Helios were the new tallest trees found during this period, with heights 2.5% taller than the previously known tallest trees.  Then in the late 2000’s LiDAR aerial surveys were carried out where entire groves could be definitively surveyed for height.  From this came a list of a few dozen unknown redwoods taller than 106 meters in height, but none were taller than Hyperion.

3      Large Volume Redwood Surprises

It is much more difficult to measure the volume of a redwood than its height.  Any tree approximates a tapering cylinder and formulae for types of cones or canonical frustums need to be applied to sections of the tree to determine volume.  On top of this, for the largest redwoods, they are going to be hidden among other smaller redwood trees, with their tops seldom exceeding the 106 meter height used to ground truth LiDAR height measurements.

If you look at the largest redwood lists, it seems to be a list of the largest redwoods by a road or by a trail or along a major tributary such as Prairie Creek, Mill Creek, or Redwood Creek.   Nothing there for redwoods growing along feeder creeks on schist benches with nearby springs.   Some of the tallest redwoods grow up the feeder creeks, why can’t some of the largest redwoods as well?

4      The 50,000 Cubic Feet Ghost Redwood

If there is a 50,000 cubic foot redwood still growing, it is well hidden.  Like some smaller giants it would be maybe 325 feet in height, just a little too low to attract LiDAR height investigation.  It would be away from a road and a trail and a major tributary.  But maybe not too far away.  It would be on a nice dark soil bench, with a seasonal spring close by.  It could be in the big forest south of the old Redwood Creek mill site, or maybe in lower Lost Man.  It could be on the hill above the Atlas Grove in Prairie Creek or maybe in the marbled murrelet wilderness in the same park.  It could be in the Klamath area, or the untrailed tracts of Jedediah Smith Redwoods.

A redwood tree of 50,000 cubic feet volume is not much of a stretch from the current largest known at 41,000 cubic feet.  All you need is an extra six percent or so in both height and diameter to get you that extra twenty percent of volume.  That is how the geometry works.  And that six percent is no more of a stretch than the fact a 385 foot redwood was found along redwood creek at the time when the tallest trees were thought to be around 365 feet.

A 50,000 cubic foot redwood would be a ghost, a reminder of the start of the twentieth century with men in suspenders and derby caps and women in long flowing dresses with rolled up umbrellas posed around giant redwood trunks.  I can picture such a tree, deep in a forest, over 300 feet in height, with a 25 foot diameter at chest height and a 20 foot diameter at 70 feet.  With 26,000 cubic feet of wood in that section alone, and another 26,000 feet in wood above it.  A 52,000 cubic foot redwood, right up there with General Sherman.  This Redwood Ghost would look something like Howland Hill Giant or Sir Isaac Newton, only wider, especially up the trunk.  It would have some big redwoods as neighbors with perhaps some tan oaks, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock sprinkled in, all in a carpet of ferns.

Maybe I have seen this ghost, or maybe it was a dream.   It was not a dream.

Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “The Ghost Giant”

  1. Hello Mark,

    really interesting article! I am pretty sure there is at least one living redwood with a volume of 50.000 cubic feet.
    Even though 95 % of the redwood forests are gone, most of the 5 % left are growing in prime habitats. Back in the early 20th century “Save the Redwoods League” protected some of the most impressive redwood forests left at that time. In the 1940s the Crannell Creek Giant was still standing, so chances are high, that similar trees were protected by establishing PCNP and JSNP 10-20 years earlier. These National Parks have similar redwood habitats and climate conditions compared to the area where
    Crannell Creek Giant was growing. This redwood “only“ had a 20-21 feet diameter. Today, there are approximately 400 redwoods with a 18+feet diameter….so there is a good chance for a living redwood with similar shape and size.

    Greetings, Adrian

    1. Hey Adrian

      I agree with your analysis. One other factor to consider is these redwood trees seem to fuse trunks. If two trees fused 1,000 years ago in an area with the potential to produce 25k volume trees then that would be a 50k volume tree. Then it would be hard to see that fusion today. So this single stem versus multi stem argument comes into play, what constitutes a single tree. But regardless I agree there almost certainly is a living single stem redwood over 50k volume.

      Mark

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