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Hyperion


Today’s title subject could refer to a variety of things. Hyperion was one of the 12 Greek Titans and a byname for the Sun, Helios. It’s the name of one of Saturn’s moons. We could discuss the genus of beetle named Hyperion or the supercluster of galaxies of the same moniker or Longfellow’s poem. Instead, we’re here today to get high.

In our previous exploration of the world’s most massive tree, General Sherman, we learned giant sequoias are not the tallest trees on the planet. That distinction goes to the coastal redwood. These towering beauties, like the giant sequoia, sprout in just one location on the planet. In this case, California and a tiny corner of southwestern Oregon.

And one specimen stands grander than all the other giants: Hyperion.

Hyperion - photo by Ashley Harrell

Hyperion lives somewhere in Redwood National Park in California. The tree community and scientists officially keep the exact location of the tree a secret, to reduce human visitation. Not only are they concerned with the potential destruction of the tree, but the root systems in the area are delicate. No trails approach the tree, so any sojourn requires a journey through the dense, virgin ecosystem.

The tree is wow-big tall. The current official height is just over 380 feet! That’s more than 100 feet taller than General Sherman. And taller than a lot of famous tall objects.

Unlike General Sherman and many of the most massive giant sequoias, which have graced the planet for over 2,000 years, Hyperion is only somewhere between 600-800 years old. That’s some serious verticality for a young whippersnapper. The tree’s diameter is approximately 15 feet.

Because the coastal redwoods are skinnier than giant sequoias and their heights shoot to the limits of the human ability to discern, sometimes it’s hard to see the trees for the forest. Some of the few visitors to Hyperion aren’t even sure they’ve found the correct tree. This attribute helps keep the location secret, though one can find it if so inclined.

In fact, many people believe Hyperion is only the world’s tallest tree in an official capacity. Explorers discovered her in 2006. When the measurement arrived, she topped the tree world. But it’s extremely difficult to gauge the heights of coastal redwoods without sophisticated equipment. Hyperion is still growing taller but at a slow pace. Many believe other trees have probably passed her 380 feet, but perhaps have not been measured; others purport scientists have identified taller trees, but have decided to keep them nameless and not publicize the fact. Despite the location’s secret, people visit Hyperion regularly and arborists might want to save other giants from the traffic.

The massive, relatively solitary sequoias cannot hide. Sometimes, the slimmer redwoods can hide in plain sight!
Hyperion from the southeast side - image from FamousRedwoods

Officially, Redwood National Park contains the three tallest trees. Second place goes to a tree named Helios and the bronze medal was dubbed Icarus. 

The National Geographic video below documents the first ascent of Hyperion, which established the initial height record.

Can Hyperion continue to grow?

Despite being significantly younger than our previous study, General Sherman, coastal redwoods can hit the two-millennium mark. So, Hyperion is just a teenager and could push higher. Some scientists believe Hyperion might have been stymied by woodpecker damage in its crown. She is growing, but the rate may have slowed. Further, some tree specialists believe a theoretical maximum tree height might exist. If that’s the case, Hyperion is only 89% of the way to that number!

Here’s to another dozen centuries of growth. May Hyperion reign long into the future!

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