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General Sherman Tree: Everything You Need To Know About The World’s Largest Tree

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Located in America’s second oldest national park, Sequoia, the General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world. Just how big is it you ask?

In this article, you’ll learn all about this amazing tree and the park which is its home.

general sherman tree
The General Sherman Tree

General Sherman Tree

History Of The General Sherman Tree

Crowds visiting the world's largest tree | General Sherman Tree
Holiday crowds visiting the world’s biggest tree | General Sherman Tree
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

How Big Is The General Sherman Tree?

Located in the Sequoia National Park, the General Sherman Tree is the largest known living single stem tree on earth. The tree is thought to be between 2,300 to 2,700 years old.

It stands at a height of 274.9 feet, with a circumference at the base of 102.6 ft. The branches found on this tree measure up to 7 feet wide in diameter. However you look at it, it’s one incredible tree.

How did the tree get its name? That’s a wonderful story. In 1879, a cowboy and fur trapper by the name of James Wolverton is reported to have discovered the tree. It was the biggest tree Wolverton had ever seen.

Wolverton had served under General William Tecumseh Sherman as a lieutenant in the 9th Indiana Calvary. He therefore decided to name the tree after his commanding officer.

The world's largest tree was named after William Tecumseh Sherman | General Sherman Tree
The General Sherman Tree was named after one of America’s most successful generals–William Tecumseh Sherman | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

William Tweed set out to prove whether, in fact, this story is true. He writes, “Not until 1897, in fact, did soldiers first write down the name “General Sherman Tree” in a report. That summer, they placed a sign on the tree with that name.”

RELATED: 10+ (GIANT) Sequoia Tree & Kings Canyon National Parks Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Was The Tree Originally Named After Karl Marx?

Was the World's largest tree originally named after Karl Marx | General Sherman Tree
Was the General Sherman Tree originally named after Karl Marx? (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

This is where the story gets rather interesting. In 1884, a socialist Utopian group known as the Kaweah Colony explored the area. They were looking for trees for logging.

The group discovered this giant tree and gave it the name “Karl Marx,” after the man who invented communism.

After the creation of the Sequoia National Park in 1890, soldiers were dispatched to the area. They came across these Kaweah Colonists and expelled them. Did the soliders rename the tree?

The only evidence available was a park guide which was first published in 1921. The guide tells the story of James Wolverton and the General Sherman Tree. This is the first published account substantiating the Wolverton Story.

It appeared 42 years after the event was supposed to have taken place. So it’s difficult to say whether, in fact, the story is actually true.

Facts About The World’s Largest Tree – The General Sherman

general sherman tree sequoia national park california
The General Sherman Tree in the snow.

The General Sherman Tree is classified as a “Sequoia.” It’s not only the largest tree in the world, but it’s also the largest living organism, based on volume, on the entire planet.

General Sherman is not alone. There’s another famous sequoia tree nearby in Kings Canyon National Park.

It’s the second-largest tree in the world, standing at 267 feet tall and nearly 29 feet wide at the base. It’s named the General Grant Tree.

Winston Churchill is reported to have once said, “The winners write the history.” It looks like they get the big trees named after them too.

RELATED: General Grant Tree-Everything You Need To Know About The World’s Second Largest Tree

“No other tree combines such massiveness of trunk with such height…. Spruces and pines of majestic port standing around look like saplings…. They look up, but the Sequoias look—not down but out, indifferent to all that is transpiring below them. They see only the limitless reaches of the eternal sky…”

-Julia Ellen Rogers, “The Big Tree and the Redwood,” The Tree Book: A Popular Guide to a Knowledge of the Trees of North America and to their Uses and Cultivation, 1905

The “President” Tree

The third largest tree in the world is called the “President.” Which president? We’ll leave that up to your imagination | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As long as we’re listing the world’s tallest trees, here’s another. The third-largest tree in the world, based on volume, is a giant sequoia known as the “President.” This tree also happens to be the oldest known living sequoia. It has been growing for 3,200 years.

How is it that sequoia trees can grow for so long? They are able to protect themselves against naturals threats. The tannic acid found in their sap helps the trees fight off fungal rot, protects them from parasites and acts as a fire repellent against low-intensity burns. 

The only way these amazing trees reproduce is through seeds. These seeds remain in their pine cones for almost twenty years without seeing any sunlight.

Believe it or not, the heat which results from naturally occurring forest fires helps to release these seeds them from the pine cones into the soil.

The largest sequoia trees are equivalent to a 26-story building | General Sherman Tree
The largest sequoia trees are equivalent in height to a 26-story building | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

They’re As Tall As A 26-Story Building

Another interesting fact is that these trees are the third longest-lived tree species and typically have a lifespan of 3,000 years. The largest of these trees are equivalent in height to a 26-story building.

Here’s another fascinating fact. Sequoia National Park was the first park actually created to protect a living organism.

“The sequoias belong to the silences of the millenniums. Many of them have seen a hundred human generations rise, give off their little clamors and perish. They seem indeed to be forms of immortality standing here among the transitory shapes of time.”

-Edwin Markham

About Sequoia National Park | General Sherman Tree

Travel to Sequoia National Park to see the mighty trees and you'll feel like Lemuel Gulliver in Brobdingnag | General Sherman Tree
Travel to Sequoia National Park to see the mighty trees and you’ll feel like Lemuel Gulliver in Brobdingnag. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

If you’ve read Jonathan Swift’s classic, Gulliver’s Travels, or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, it’s the story of Lemuel Gulliver who journeys to four amazing lands.

While his most famous voyage was to Lilliput (ergo the “Lilliputians” or “Little People”), in one of Gulliver’s other journeys, he travels to the land of Brobdingnag where a blade of grass is as tall as a tree.

Publicity photo of the cast of Land of the Giants television program. Shown left to right: Don Matheson, Heather Young, Kurt Kasznar, Deanna Lund, Gary Conway, and Don Marshall. Visiting Sequoia National can make you feel like you’re in the “land of the giants,” too, only in this case the giants are trees. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

You don’t have to travel to Brobdingnag to experience what Gulliver did. Travel to Sequoia National Park where the trees are so tall and so amazing that you’ll feel like a Lilliputian in this land of the giants.

These massive Sequoia trees actually grow between 5,000 and 8,000 feet in elevation.

How is this possible you might ask? At Sequoia, the winters are relatively mild which makes it a perfect natural habitat for these incredible specimens to grow and thrive.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

-John Muir

Sequoia Is Home To The Tallest Mountain In The Lower 48 States

The magnificent Mount Whitney at Sequoia National Park is one of the tallest in the world | Generral Sherman Tree
If you’re looking for a mountain to climb, you won’t find many higher than Mount Whitney. It’s located in Sequoia National Park. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

It’s not just tall trees that Sequoia National Park has to offer. Sequoia also has the tallest mountain in the lower contiguous 48 states.

Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. It has an elevation of 14,505 feet. The mountain’s west slope is located in Sequoia National Park. The southern terminus of the John Muir Trail is where the summit is located. 


“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Climb Every Mountain

At Sequoia National Park, you don’t have to sing about climbing mountains. You can just climb them instead. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Remember that wonderful song from The Sound Of Music, which Julie Andrews sings? It’s called “Climb Every Mountain.” While you may not want to climb every mountain, if you’re looking for a mountain to climb you won’t find many higher than Mount Whitney.

From the peak of Mount Whitney, you can see the incredible majesty of the Sierra Nevada range and look down into the beautiful Owens Valley. This magnificent mountain is the highest point of the Great Basin Divide.

The First President To Stay At Sequoia While In Office

George W. Bush was the first president to visit the park while in office | General Sherman Tree
George W. Bush on a walking tour at Moro Rock. (Courtesy of the White House)

The average male has 25% body fat. As President, George W. Bush had a a body fat of 14%. How did he do it? According the the White House, he worked on an elliptical machine two days a week, lifted weights two days a week, ran an average of four miles four days each week and did regular stretching exercises.

George W. Bush was clearly one of our more physically fit presidents while in office. When jogging became too difficult as a result of knee surgeries, he took up mountain biking instead. This man did not shy away from rugged physical exercise even on the hottest of days.

He was also the first president to visit Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks while in office. While there, he took a walking tour of Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park on May 1, 2001.

“Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks Feature Over 800 Miles Of Trails

Rae Lakes Wildflowers at Kings Canyon National Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

To paraphrase Nancy Sinatra, “These parks are made for walking. That’s just what they do.” While you’re visiting the world’s tallest tree, why not check out some of the incredible hiking trails at Sequoia and its next door neighbor, Kings Canyon National Park.

If walking’s what you love to do then check out the John Muir Trail. It’s a 221-mile trail stretching from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. It travels through Kings Canyon and into Sequoia so you get two parks for the price of one.

If you’re a hiker then know that the best hiking season is from July to September when the weather is sunny and dry. Permits are not required for day kikes unless you’re planning to hike Mount Whitney. Consider going in the early morning or evening hours to escape the heat of the day.

“No nobler monuments of our love for beauty can be erected than to preserve these oldest and biggest trees in the world and these tallest trees in America.”

– French Strother, “Saving the Big Trees: The Need of Further National, State, and Private Protection for the Remnants of the Groves that Are Being Cut,” The World’s Work, June 1909

How Do I Get To The General Sherman Tree

There are some incredible hiking trails in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks | General Sherman Tree
To see the magnificent General Sherman Tree you take the General Sherman Tree Trail | Courtesy of Wikimedia

There’s a trail in Sequoia National Park called the General Sherman Tree Trail. It’s a 1.2 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Three Rivers, California features beautiful wild flowers and is good for all skill levels.

The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, and nature trips and is accessible year-round.

The easiest way to get there is to park off Wolverton Road. You take the Main Trail, which is roughly half a mile. The path is paved with stairs.

It’s a beautiful hike as it passes through the Giant Forest’s sequoia grove, which features displays and exhibits with facts about the giant sequoias. The walk to the tree is downhill, while the return trip is uphill.

General Sherman Tree In The News

A wildfire threatens Sequoia National Park | General Sherman Tree
The General Sherman Tree & Sequoia National Park have been in the news as a result of a major wildfire which has threatened the park and its iconic trees.

The General Sherman Tree has been in the news as of late. Firefighters have been battling a major wildfire in Sequoia National Park. The 21,777-acre blaze has been dubbed the KNP Complex Fire after two fires merged into one.

In a precautionary move, firefighters wrapped the massive trunk of the tree with special aluminum foil-like material to protect General Sherman from flames of encroaching wildfires.

In a positive report from the brave men and women on the front lines of this massive wildfire, officials said they were feeling fairly confident about protecting the Giant Forest and its thousands of towering sequoias. 

Check Out Our Comprehensive Guide

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and learned things you didn’t know about the world’s tallest tree. If you’re interested in learning more about our national parks than please check out our comprehensive guide to all 63 of them.

Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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