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The Tallest Tree in the World: Hyperion
The tallest known living tree is a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) at Prairie Creek Redwood State Park (part of the Redwoods National and State Park group), California. The tree, which the discoverers named Hyperion, displaces the Stratosphere Giant, a redwood in Humboldt State Park, as the world-record holder at 115.66 m (379.5 ft). Two other recently-discovered trees, Helios and Icarus, in Redwood National Park have also measured taller than the 370.5-foot Stratosphere Giant.
The exact location of the tree remains unspecified for its safety. But if you did know the coordinates, to get to the giant you'd have to walk 4 miles over rugged terrain from the main trail toward a lost little valley on the edge of the park. Hyperion is estimate to be between 700 and 800 years old, and could have been taller but for woodpecker damage at the top.
Redwoods can't reach Hyperion's the lofty heights unless they are protected from wind. In the original old-growth coast redwood forests, the giant trees themselves comprised the windbreak.
A universal constraint on tree height is getting water up the trunk and to the treetops.
The tallest tree reliably recorded was a Douglas fir in British Columbia's Lynn Valley, measured in the late 19th century at 414 feet.
The previous "World's Tallest Tree" enjoyed a short four-year reign until two hikers, Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, were deep in a different section of another park, Redwood National Park (purchased in 1978 during the Carter administration) when they came across a new stand of trees, taller than anyone had ever seen before on April 25, 2006. The tallest of the tall is now called "Hyperion."
And the naturalists who discovered the tree say it's unlikely that they'll find a taller redwood. The chances of finding a tree that could best or even equal the new champ are remote, Taylor said. "Between us, Chris and I have already covered about 95 percent of the prime habitat for big redwoods," Taylor said. "There aren't too many more places we could look." Four decades ago, there were thousands of trees Hyperion's size, but they were logged along with more than 90 percent of the state's ancient redwoods.
We have the precise measurements because after Chris and Michael announced their discovery, a team of scientists, led by Humboldt State University ecologist Steve Sillett, climbed to the top of the tree and dropped a tape down to the ground on September 16, 2006.
Some things are still that simple.
Although researchers took laser measurements of all three of the redwoods this summer, final and official tape measurements had to wait until the end of the marbled murrelet's nesting season. The endangered seabird broods in old-growth conifers.
Climbing the world's tallest tree to the top was no small feat. Sillett used a powerful crossbow to shoot a bolt with a trailing line over a limb about 250 feet up the redwood's trunk. The line was fixed to a rope, which was pulled over the limb and anchored to a nearby tree. Sillett and three other climbers ascended the rope into the canopy.
*The photo collage of the Stratosphere Giant was created by photographer James Balog; Nalini Nadkarni's book on trees is "Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees (University of California Press, 2008)