National parks are home to some of the country’s rarest and most remarkable trees. In many cases, these spectacular plants have stood watch over centuries of history. Here are just 10 places that are sure to wow tree lovers everywhere.
1. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
The giant sequoias at these adjacent parks are some of the most massive organisms known to exist, including the two largest trees in the world, measured by volume: the General Sherman Tree and the General Grant Tree. The trees in these groves can live for more than 3,000 years and are equivalent in height to 20-story buildings with bright red bark and trunks up to a hundred feet in circumference. Standing amid them, visitors can gain a sense of perspective and wonder at the magnificence of nature.
2. Great Basin National Park, Nevada
The weathered, curiously twisted bristlecone pines at Great Basin are some of the oldest living organisms in the world, surviving in isolated groves through centuries of harsh weather. When scientists felled one of these ancient pines, named Prometheus, for research in 1964, they discovered it was about 4,900 years old, the oldest known tree at the time. None of the park’s current trees are known to be as old as Prometheus, but some have stood in high-elevation groves for thousands of years. Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah are also home to these long-lived, fascinatingly shaped pines.
3. Congaree National Preserve, South Carolina
This preserve protects one of the oldest-growth forests on the East Coast, with bald cypress, water tupelo, cedar and pine trees so ancient, hiking and canoeing among them feels like stepping back into another century. These spectacular trees escaped clear-cutting largely due to their location. Though a logging company had purchased much of the land by the early 1900s, the area was so difficult to access with heavy machinery, the company suspended its operations after only a decade, leaving most of the trees intact. As a result, even the “knees” of the park’s majestic cypress — the knobs that rise up from the trees’ extensive root systems — can grow taller than a person.
4. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
The ʻōhiʻa tree is a type of myrtle native to the Hawaiian Islands with striking lehua flowers made up of many colorful stamens. The tree is highly adaptable, growing directly on the park’s volcanic rock — though it grows taller in more favorable conditions, including in the island’s cloud forests. According to Hawaiian mythology, ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua were lovers. The volcano goddess Pele fell in love with ʻŌhiʻa, and when he rejected her advances, she turned him into a tree. The other gods took pity on Lehua and transformed her into a flower so she could be joined forever with ʻŌhiʻa. As the legend goes, when someone picks a lehua flower, it will rain on the same day, from the tears of the lovers being separated.
5. Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, California
If you want to immerse yourself in the otherworldly beauty of the giant yucca plants known as Joshua trees, Joshua Tree National Park is, of course, a classic choice. This vast park offers dazzling vistas of its namesake attraction across two distinct desert ecosystems, as well as gardens of ocotillo, cholla cactus and many other desert plants. Nearby Mojave National Preserve has also been home to the largest and densest Joshua tree forest in the world — though, sadly, the park suffered a devastating fire last summer that killed as many as 1.3 million of these beloved trees. Park staff will be organizing volunteers to help plant new trees, likely over the winter of 2021 to 2022; more information is available on the park’s website.
6. Olympic National Park, Washington
This Northwest park is home to lush, moss-covered forests with remarkably large primeval trees, including several “champion” trees — the largest known examples of particular species found anywhere on the planet. It’s no wonder that some call this region the “Valley of the Rain Forest Giants.” These towering trees include the world’s largest Sitka spruce, which measures an impressive 191 feet tall and nearly 17.7 feet in diameter, as well as the largest western red cedar and the largest hemlock, among other record-breaking behemoths.
7. Everglades National Park, Florida
Mangroves thrive in marine environments where few trees can survive, having adapted over years to filter salt water and withstand waves with their complex roots. Not only are mangroves hardy survivors, they also protect coastal areas from erosion and offer habitat to a variety of species, from oysters to birds to algae. The trees’ dense root systems even play an important role providing shelter for juvenile fish and other small aquatic animals. The Everglades feature the most abundant groves of these trees in the Western Hemisphere.
8. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Though the fall foliage season is long gone, the trees in Petrified Forest have featured a rainbow of brilliant colors year-round for centuries. More than 200 million years ago, these logs were buried so deeply in sediment that little oxygen could reach them, slowing their process of decay. The wood gradually absorbed minerals and crystallized over hundreds of thousands of years into almost pure quartz. Bits of iron, manganese and other minerals created the dazzling spectrum of color that now shines in this ancient wood.
9. Redwood National and State Parks, California
Video by Peter Wall.
The world’s tallest known tree, dubbed Hyperion, is a redwood growing in this jointly managed network of federal and state parks, which protects some of the country’s most spectacular old-growth forests. Even among these groves of the world’s tallest trees, Hyperion towers above them at a staggering 379 feet, four inches tall — taller than the Statue of Liberty. Though the location is kept secret to protect the tree, the above video by Peter Wall shows scientist Jim Spickler climbing Hyperion to measure its record-setting height.
10. National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital is home to more than 300 tree species from around the world, earning it the nickname City of Trees. Many are protected as “witness trees” — trees that were part of the lives of historic figures or stood during significant events, such as the southern magnolias Frederick Douglass planted in the late 1800s as a gift to his first wife that still stand at what is now the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, or the sequoia tree on the North Lawn of the Capitol Building on the National Mall that was planted in 1966 to honor Chief Sequoyah of the Cherokee Nation, who is believed to have inspired the tree’s name. Most famous, however, are the cherry trees that line the Tidal Basin of the National Mall, given to the United States as a gift of friendship from Japan in the early 1900s. The trees’ ethereal blooms in early spring turn the banks of the Potomac a delicate pink while beguiling city residents and tourists alike.
This is an updated version of a previously published story.
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- Sequoia National Park
- National Mall and Memorial Parks
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Congaree National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Great Basin National Park
- Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
- Mojave National Preserve
- Olympic National Park
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Redwood National & State Parks