The Biggest Tree in the World?

Did the biggest tree in the world grow in the East Bay hills? Maybe!

January 1, 2024

In the mid-1800s the East Bay old-growth redwood forests were extensively logged, profoundly impacting the ecology of the forest. The high quality lumber that was produced contributed to rapid development of the Bay Area. Clear-cutting was not the end of the story, however. Redwoods have the ability to sprout baby trees from the outside of their stumps, over time producing the beautiful second-growth redwood forests in Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park, Roberts Regional Recreation Area, and in other East Bay parks.

In 1886, William Gibbons (co-founder of the California Academy of Sciences), John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club), and Alfred Wallace (who developed the theory of evolution alongside Charles Darwin) sat upon a redwood stump in the Oakland hills that was about 32 feet wide, when measured 4 feet above the ground! Think about how wide that is. Gibbons lamented that the original redwood forest could have been “one of the noblest natural parks conceivable.”

The current biggest tree in the world by volume, known as General Sherman, is a giant sequoia redwood in Sequoia National Park. At 4 feet above the ground, it is about 25 feet wide. The East Bay coastal redwood at 32 feet was significantly wider! We do not know how tall the 32-foot-wide tree was, but it could have easily equaled General Sherman’s 275 feet. If the great redwood tree of the East Bay were  alive today, it seems likely it would be the biggest tree in the world!

Where was this 32-foot-wide tree? Unfortunately, nobody seems to know. Almost all of the East Bay redwood stumps were removed in later years for wood use. There are some impressive “fairy rings” in different parts of the forest, which is a circle (or part of a circle) of trees that sprouted around an original tree. But without a stump, it could take research and even excavation to figure out exactly how wide the original tree was. Not knowing exactly where the great tree was adds an interesting mystery to our beautiful East Bay redwood forests. Come investigate. Maybe someday we will find it!

Did You Know? There are only three species of redwood trees. Two are native to California, and one – the dawn redwood – is native to China.