The biggest, tallest and oldest trees in the World are all native to California. The biggest trees are the giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum. The tallest trees are the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. The oldest trees are the bristlecone pines, Pinus longaeva. The biggest and the tallest are two of only three specie of redwood in the World, and except for a few coastal redwood that live barely north of the Oregon border, both are endemic only to California. Most of us know that the coastal redwood is the state tree of California. However, some believe that California is the only state with two state trees, which are the two native specie of redwood.
This gives arborists from California serious bragging rights.
Most of the arborists whom I work with are very familiar with the coastal redwood. Not only is it the most prominent tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but it is also a common tree in landscapes of the Santa Clara Valley.
The other two specie are not nearly so common. Neither perform well in landscape situations, and certainly not locally. Even if they did, the giant redwood gets much too bulky to fit into urban landscapes, and the bristlecone pine is a bit too irregular for refined landscapes. Because they both live in somewhat remote regions within California, some very experienced arborists have never seen either of them in the wild. Of course, it is not something we talk about much.
I still have not seen bristlecone pine in the wild. The only specimens I have ever seen were bonsai stock that had not yet been cultivated as bonsai specimens.
In the late 1990s, I had not seen giant redwood in the wild either. I had only seen the unhappy specimens that were planted on the sides of roads between San Jose and nearby towns during the Victorian Period before the urban landscape had become so inhospitable to them. One of my respected colleagues who had seen many of the more interesting trees of California in his travels had not seen them either.
Fortunately, it was nothing that a good old fashioned road trip could not fix. Without much planning at all, we drove out to Sequoia National Park and met with the General Sherman Tree. There was too much snow to get very far, so we did not get similarly acquainted with the General Grant Tree farther up the road. It was one of the most compelling horticultural trips of my lifetime, right up there with going to see the native California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, outside of Palm Springs, or the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, outside of Palmdale. I know that the picture above is not a good picture of my colleague with the General Sherman Tree. It is from a time when cameras still used film. Getting pictures transferred to a compact disc was merely an option back then. The sepia toned picture below is even older, but it is not mine.