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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Nation/World

Mourning for giant tree may be premature

Nicholas Shields Los Angeles Times

The world’s second-biggest tree, a sequoia known as the Washington Tree, has become a fractured shadow of its former self.

But officials at Sequoia National Park say they don’t know for sure if it is dying. The tree, which is probably at least 2,500 years old, has lost more than half its 254-foot height in a forest fire and recent winter storms and doesn’t have many branches with green growth left.

“We don’t know if it’s dying or not,” said Bill Tweed, chief interpretive ranger at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. “There still are those green branches – those could keep the tree alive an unknown number of years – but it’s not going to be the same tree that it was.”

Park officials said the tree, named after George Washington, will probably outlive its human mourners. Some sequoias in worse shape have continued to live for centuries.

Media from around the world have inquired about the tree, which is now 115 feet tall. Park officials want to dispel any notions of its imminent demise.

One group from Arizona was so concerned that it called park officials last week offering to donate miracle tree food that they thought could help restore the sequoia’s health. Another caller asked for a piece of the tree as a souvenir to commemorate its death.

“It has been quite heartening for me to see how much people have cared,” said Alexandra Picavet, a spokeswoman for the parks.

“One branch with green leaves connected by live tissue to one root” is all that’s needed for a tree to be considered alive, Tweed said.

Finding the Washington Tree involves effort. It takes about an hour to drive the 17 miles of twisting road from the park’s entrance to Giant Forest. A paved road leads to the world’s biggest tree by volume, the famed General Sherman, and from there it’s a 1.5-mile hike through deep forest to the Washington Tree.

In its prime, the Washington stood more than 254 feet tall, with a base circumference of more than 101 feet. But a lightning-induced fire toppled nearly 20 feet of the tree’s crown in 2003, and last month’s winter storms reduced its height by another 120 feet.

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