Tall and Unseen


The map pictured above was generated from Wikipedia data. (Here’s a much larger version, and it’s not quite right — apparently, the creator’s program misidentified some points at the Equator and Prime Meridian.) Many Wikipedia entries have geographic coordinates on them; you can find the coordinates on the upper-right of the page for nearly anything with a static physical location. This is true for townslandmarks, and even some trees. But not all notable trees make the cut. Take, for example, Hyperion, the world’s tallest known living tree — and, for that matter, the tallest known living thing at all. Its Wikipedia entry doesn’t have any geographic coordinates on it. Because its location is kept a secret.

The Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) encompass over 100,000 acres on the Pacific coast of northern California. Hyperion is located somewhere therein. At 379.1 feet, it’s the tallest of all the world’s trees, as far as we know. The second and third tallest trees, named Helios (at 376.6 feet) and Icarus (371.2 feet) respectively, are also at RNSP. All three are coast redwoods, similar to the ones pictured below.

Except they’re much taller. For example, here’s a picture of a very tall coast redwood, but at 369 feet, it doesn’t crack the top three.

Unfortunately — and for good reason — the powers that be have decided not to publicly state where Hyperion is located. Publishing its precise location would certainly bring tourists, who, as the San Francisco Chronicle notes, would be risking their well-being in doing so, as the area is “over steep slopes, downed trees, and thick vegetation.” And perhaps just as importantly, it’d put the trees and forest at risk; as the tree’s (geolocation-less) Wikipedia entry notes, “[t]he exact location of the tree has not been revealed to the public for fear that human traffic would upset the ecosystem the tree inhabits.”

And as things go, humanity has a pretty bad track record when it comes to notable trees. As recounted in these pages previously, an allegedly drunk driver managed to kill a tree surrounded by hundreds of miles of desert nothingness, for example. But a more notable example is the unfortunate death of Prometheus, a tree in Nevada. In 1964, a graduate student, working with members of the United States Forest Service, cut it down for research purposes — they wanted to know how old the tree was. 

What they discovered? The recently-killed Prometheus was old — 4,862 years old, at least — making it the oldest known non-clonal organism in the world until they figured that out.



Bonus fact: The world’s tallest living person is Sultan Kosen, a Turkish farmer who will turn 30 on December 10, 2012. He became the world’s tallest, officially, on August 25, 2009, when Guinness measured him at 8’1″ (2.47m), according to his Wikipedia entry (which also lacks geographic coordinates, but in this case, that’s because he can move). A year and a half later, he was measured at 8’3″ (2.51 meters).  His height, caused by a tumor on his pituitary gland, would have probably kept climbing, but in 2010, he underwent treatment to control the gland’s output, halting his growth. 

From the ArchivesCircus Trees: Sometimes, when people and trees mix, the end result is something pretty cool.

RelatedA Shrinky Dink Christmas Tree set. It’s a tree, and it gets smaller over time.