History of Kew's Redwood Grove
This mature woodland comprises a mix of coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum), and was planted around the 1860s.
The coastal redwood was introduced to Britain in 1843, and the giant redwood a decade later. The latter was initially named Wellingtonia after the recently deceased Duke of Wellington.
The coastal redwood is the world’s tallest living species. Its range is now limited to Oregon and California on the West Coast of the USA, however fossils of the coastal redwood have been found in Britain and the Arctic, indicating that its range was once much larger.
In 2006, one tree measuring 115 metres high was discovered in Redwood National Park, California. It is believed to be the world’s tallest living thing (as of October 2008). Named Hyperion, its location has been kept secret to protect the surrounding ecosystem.
The giant redwood is a close relation of the coastal species. The world’s largest tree in the world by volume, it can live for up to 3,400 years. The largest living specimens live in its native California. King of them all is the tree called 'General Sherman'. It stands 84 metres high, and its trunk measures 31 metres in circumference at ground level. It is believed to be 3,200 years old.
The giant redwood can grow at quite a pace. One tree in Italy reached 22 metres high in 17 years. Growth rates depend on the habitat and weather conditions. Although it can tolerate temperatures as low as –30°C, the giant redwood flourishes in a humid environment with dry summers and snowy winters.
The coastal and giant redwoods are similar in appearance; both have a vibrant rust-red bark. However, the giant redwood’s leaves are frond-like, while those of the coastal redwood are similar to yew leaves. An easy way to tell them apart is to punch their trunks. The giant redwood’s bark is spongy, while that of the coastal species is hard.
Things to look out for
In the middle of the Redland Grove is a circular paved area, some eight metres across. This demarcates the width of ‘Grizzly Giant’, a living giant redwood trunk in Yosemite National Park. Nearby. Annual growth rings are marked with major events that took place in the tree’s lifetime. These include the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, construction of the Empire State Building in 1931 and the rise of the Internet in 1997.
A specimen of coastal redwood in the Redwood Grove is Kew’s tallest tree, standing at 39.3 metres high.