The giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron gigantea) introduced in my previous post (see “Giant Sequoia” on 08-18-19) has small cones and leaves relative to its massive size.
The leaves of this evergreen are 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch long, awl or lanceolate in shape and overlap, closely pressed to the twig. They are rigid and sharp-pointed. Both faces of the leaf (needle) are marbled with bands of stomata.
Giant sequoia cones mature at the end of the second season, but they do not open their scales until at least the third season. Starting out greenish, the cones mature to a dark reddish brown. The scales are deeply pitted and thicken from the base to the apex. Beneath each scale are 4 to 6 light brown seeds surrounded by a pair of united wings. Giant sequoia seeds have a low viability – less than 50%. Additionally, to best germinate, the seeds require mineral soil laid bare by fire or mechanical means. In order to grow and thrive the young seedlings need light provided by an opening in the forest. Insects, rodents and deer also attack the young seedlings. Of the million or so seeds produced by a giant sequoia, only one might germinate and survive its first year – with luck!
Giant sequoias have two types of bark. The outer bark is reddish to purplish grey and is very thick, as much as a foot or two on old trees. This outer bark is furrowed, fibrous and has a spongy outer cortex. Beneath the outer bark is a firm, thinner inner integument. The bark contains tannic acid which helps heal the bark after fire or mechanical damage and discourages insect invasion.
The flowers of giant sequoia come from buds formed the previous autumn. The terminal flowers are unisexual, minute and solitary. Female flowers consist of 25 to 40 pale yellow, gradually pointed scales. The male flowers have spirally disposed stamens subtended by closely overlapping bracts. Each stamen terminates in an umbrella-shape from which are suspended numerous spherical anthers.
In the stillness as daylight faded into dusk, Leonard and I could not but stand in respect of these ancient titans.