UK’s Thriving Giant Redwoods: World’s Largest Trees Make Impressive Growth

Giant redwoods, the world’s largest trees, are flourishing in the United Kingdom, outnumbering those in their natural habitat in California.

The giants were introduced to the UK over 160 years ago and are now growing at the same rate as their counterparts in the US, according to a recent study.

The UK is home to an estimated 500,000 trees, while California has 80,000.

However, they are not yet as tall. They can reach 90 meters in California, while the tallest in the United Kingdom is 54.87 metres.

However, this is due to the early age of the introduced trees. Giant redwoods can survive for more than 2,000 years, so there’s still enough time for the UK’s trees to catch up.

“Half a million trees is quite a lot to go under the radar until now, but it’s when you start looking for them in the landscape, and compiling these datasets, that you realise how many there are,” said Dr Phil Wilkes, one of the study’s authors from Kew’s botanic garden at Wakehurst in Sussex.


BBC/Tony Jolliffe
Giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) were introduced to the United Kingdom by the Victorians. They were the ultimate botanical status symbol, usually found on the wealthy’s vast estates.

Today, some form sweeping avenues, while others stand alone or in pairs. However, they are easily identifiable because of their massive, cone-shaped crowns that tower over everything else.

To examine how these towering giants are adapting to their new home in the UK, experts studied over 5,000 trees at Wakehurst, Benmore Botanic Garden in Argyllshire, Scotland, and Havering Country Park in Essex.

They used laser scanners to measure the heights and volumes of some of the trees, which also allowed them to weigh them without having to chop them down.

The researchers discovered that the trees grew at a rate comparable to enormous redwoods in their natural habitat in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Dr. Wilkes believes that the climate in the United Kingdom is ideal for them.

“Where they grow in California, it’s cooler and moister than you would typically envisage California to be,” he explained.

“And we have a reasonably similar climate here – it’s very wet and they need the moisture to grow.”

Scientists are making 3D scans of the trees. Credit: Phil Wilkes
The scientists also looked at how much carbon dioxide the trees absorbed. Trees absorb and store greenhouse gases, and planting more trees can help combat climate change.

The researchers discovered that due of their sheer size, huge redwoods can store a significant quantity of carbon dioxide in their wood – though not as much as their US counterparts.

Dr Wilkes stated that the trees at Wakehurst, which are roughly 45m tall, contain between 10 and 15 tons of carbon.

“However, when compared to the greatest tree in California, which stores approximately 250 tonnes of carbon, they are rather little. But, you know, these may get bigger.”

The scientists involved in the study are eager to point out that establishing forests of giant redwoods will not considerably lower the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These majestic giants, however, can be used in a mixed forest plantation alongside a range of other native and imported trees.

The trees in California’s ancient forests are under threat from climate change.
Getty Images

In California, the natural wonders are under threat from climate change – they’re not faring well with hotter and drier weather and more intense wildfires.

So could the UK become their new home?

In an avenue of trees originally planted as a grand entrance to a now demolished mansion in Havering Country Park, Prof Mat Disney, from University College London, says he thinks it’s more than possible.

“In terms of climate, it’s probably the case that they’re going to have a less pressured existence here than they do in California,” he said.

Although he pointed out that conditions are also changing in the UK with climate change.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe
Giant redwoods are being planted as saplings throughout the country, often by municipal governments in public parks or leisure areas.

Prof. Disney claims they have a long life ahead of them and will not remain little for long.

“They grow quickly and large.” “When they reach about 60m, they will be the tallest trees in Britain, and they will continue to grow,” he said.

However, while the trees are flourishing well in the UK, they are unlikely to take over our natural woods very soon because they do not reproduce here and require extremely precise circumstances to take seed.

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