I'm very interested in big trees. I just started reading Richard Preston's The Wild Trees and it got me wondering: have there been any tree species in evolutionary history larger than our largest trees are currently?


Hi Jesse,

good question. I doubt it, is the short answer. It is hard to be sure, since not every ancient tree has been fossilised or uncovered, and even today there are few of the biggest modern trees actually around.

Large size takes quite a lot of biomechanical problem-solving by evolution. The taller you are, the more likely that you will sustain damage from wind unless you are well supported and pumping water up high takes a huge amount of pipework and pressure, which is only worthwhile if you are competing for sunlight with other tall trees. All of this suggests that huge size will occur later in the evolutionary history of a lineage (take a look at Cope's rule for a more detailed rationale).

Of course, the largest trees today (Sequoia) have been around for quite some time as a group (probably since the Jurassic) so there is no reason to suppose that giant trees of different kinds weren't competing with them at some point. Though I doubt that they would have been any larger than recent Sequoias (ie. those from the last million years or so).