Michigan, a state known for its Great Lakes and bustling automotive industry, has a lesser-known but equally impressive claim to fame: It is home to several thriving giant sequoia trees.
In 1948, Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Gray brought six eight-inch tall sequoia trees from California and planted them on their Lake Bluff estate. Three of these trees still thrive today. The largest among them, known as the Michigan Champion, stands at 116 feet, making it the largest Giant Sequoia east of the Rockies.
This tree is nearly half the size of the world’s largest known sequoias and stands as a testament to nature’s adaptability and the wonders it can produce in the most unexpected places.
The giant sequoia in Manistee is not just any tree. It is located in an area that many would describe as a frozen tundra during the winter months. Yet, this tree not only survives but thrives, reaching a height of more than 100 feet. Its existence provides valuable data for scientists considering where to plant this species as our climate changes.
Fascinating Facts About Sequoia Trees
What are sequoia trees?
Sequoia trees, specifically the giant sequoias, are the world’s largest single trees by volume. They are renowned for their immense size and age. Native to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, these trees are among the oldest living organisms on Earth.
How old can sequoia trees get?
Giant sequoias are incredibly long-lived. While many of the existing trees are between 1,000 to 2,500 years old, some are believed to be more than 3,000 years old. Their longevity is attributed to their thick bark and tannin-rich wood, which protect them from diseases, pests, and even fires.
How tall can they grow?
While the average height of mature sequoias is between 150 to 280 feet, some exceptional trees, like the General Sherman in California, reach heights of more than 300 feet. This makes them one of the tallest tree species on the planet.
Why are they called “giant” sequoias?
Their name is a testament to their size. Not only are they tall, but they also have a massive girth. The diameter of a mature sequoia can exceed 20 feet at its base. In terms of sheer volume, they are the giants of the tree world.
Are sequoias and redwoods the same?
While both are massive trees native to California and belong to the Cupressaceae family, they are different species. The coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) grows along the northern California coast, while the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Coastal redwoods are the tallest trees, while giant sequoias are the largest by volume.
How do sequoias reproduce?
Sequoias reproduce through seeds, which are released from their cones. Interestingly, the cones might require exposure to fire for the seeds to be released. Fire not only triggers the cones to open but also clears the forest floor, creating a fertile ground for the seeds to germinate.
Are sequoias endangered?
While not classified as endangered, the giant sequoia’s natural habitat has significantly reduced due to logging in the past. Today, most of the ancient groves are protected within national parks and forests, ensuring their preservation for future generations.
Can sequoias be found outside California?
While their natural habitat is in California, sequoias have been planted in various parts of the world, from Europe to New Zealand and even Michigan. However, the trees found outside their native range are usually not as large as those in California.
How Giant Sequoia Trees Ended Up in Michigan
The story of how these trees came to Michigan is equally fascinating. In 1949, Gertrude and Edward Gray traveled to Northern California and brought back six sequoia seedlings to Michigan.
Only three of these seedlings survived, but their growth over the years has been nothing short of miraculous.
The largest of these trees, now 72 years old, stands tall at the Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary, owned by the Michigan Audubon Society. The sanctuary also houses two other sequoias, albeit smaller, but still impressive in their own right.
While the typical habitat for Giant Sequoias is a restricted region in the western Sierra Nevada in California, the Lake Bluff sequoia’s success in such a distant location astounds foresters and arborists globally.
The proximity of these trees to Lake Michigan plays a crucial role in their survival. The lake provides natural insulation, ensuring the trees remain warm during the winter and cool during the summer. This unique microclimate has allowed the sequoias to not only survive but flourish.
Dr. Bill Libby, a world-renowned forestry expert and professor emeritus of forestry and genetics at the University of California-Berkeley, once remarked that the Lake Bluff tree might be “one of the more important sequoias on Earth.”
For someone who has traveled the globe planting forestry projects and teaching about the subject, to be in awe of a tree speaks volumes about its significance.
In Manistee County, having a tree of that magnitude is truly unique. Many believe it’s too cold for such growth, expecting the tree to be stunted. Yet, its resilience against cold winters must be embedded in its genetics. It’s an anomaly; it defies expectations.
The importance of the Michigan sequoias cannot be overstated. Their existence in a location far from their natural habitat offers hope for their conservation and potential growth in other parts of the world.
If a sequoia can thrive in Michigan, it can potentially be cloned and planted in other regions, ensuring the survival of this magnificent species.
Where & How to See Sequoia Trees in Michigan
While sequoias are most commonly found in Northern California, their presence in Michigan is drawing attention from tourists and locals alike.
People from all over are flocking to see these giants, much like they do at the Sequoia National Park in California, home to the world-renowned “General Sherman,” the largest sequoia in the world.
To witness the marvel of sequoia trees in Michigan, head to the Lake Bluff Farms in Manistee. This sanctuary is home to several thriving giant sequoias, with the most prominent being the Michigan Champion, standing at an impressive height of more than 100 feet.
About Lake Bluff Farms
In 1988, M.E. and Gertrude Gray generously donated the 75-acre Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary, also known as the Lake Bluff Audubon Center, to the Michigan Audubon Society. Situated on Lakeshore Drive at the southern tip of the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, this sanctuary is designated as an Important Bird Area.
The grounds of the sanctuary, originally designed as an arboretum, feature a variety of notable tree specimens. These include a California redwood, ginkgo, and two Michigan champion trees: A giant sequoia and a sycamore maple, as described by the Michigan Audubon Society.
In 2021, 7 of the 75 acres were “sold” to Lake Bluff Farms for assistance with preserving the historic buildings on the property.
LBF is dedicated to generating funds for the restoration and preservation of Lake Bluff’s historic edifices, upholding the natural environment, and enlightening visitors. The organization emerged as the prime contender to achieve its conservation objectives.
Lake Bluff Farms offers a unique microclimate, courtesy of its proximity to Lake Michigan, which has played a pivotal role in the trees’ survival and growth. Visitors can freely explore the sanctuary, walk among these majestic giants, and immerse themselves in the serene beauty of nature.
Located at 2890 Lakeshore Road in Manistee, the sanctuary is open to visitors from dawn to dusk.
Marveling at Michigan’s Sequoia Trees
Size isn’t the only measure of a tree’s significance. The Michigan giant sequoia stands as a beacon of hope and a testament to nature’s resilience. As Dr. Libby aptly put it, people are naturally drawn to giant sequoias, no matter where they grow.
The giant sequoias of Michigan are more than just trees; they are symbols of endurance, adaptability, and the wonders of nature. Their presence in Michigan challenges our understanding of what’s possible and inspires us to look beyond the ordinary to find the extraordinary.
Note: There may be other sequoia trees in Michigan, as Bob Overton believes his yard is also home to three of these stunning trees that were planted in the late 1950s.
As the Michigan sequoias continue to grow and inspire awe, they will undoubtedly garner a dedicated local fan base ready to defend and celebrate these natural wonders.
Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a scientist, or just someone looking for a bit of inspiration, the Michigan sequoias are a must-visit.