In Greek Mythology, Hyperion is one of the twelve Titans, children of Earth and Sky. Hyperion translates to ‘The High One.’ So it’s quite apt that the name is given to the tallest tree in the world.
Standing at a staggering 380 feet, this majestic tree towers and shoots through the canopy of the forest in a way that almost seems supernatural. Perhaps, the name is apter than I had presumed.
How was the Hyperion tree found?
There’s an exciting story behind Hyperion and how it has lived for so long. Clearcutting is a logging practice in which large swathes of forests are systematically cleared to obtain lumber. About a few hundred feet from Hyperion is an area that was clear-cut in the 1970s. Weeks before the loggers were supposed to arrive in the valley that houses Hyperion, the Carter administration brought the land and declared it a National Park.
Fast forward about 30 years. In 2006, the tallest tree in the world was found by two naturalists hiking in the area. Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor did some on the spot math and were surprised to find out the fact that Hyperion was taller than the tallest tree at that time by almost 10 feet!
When the scientific community came to know about Chris and Michael’s discovery, a team of ecologists went in to confirm the fact. Instead of performing complex math, they just sent a guy to the top and measured the tree with a measuring tape. Chris and Michael’s calculations were correct.
Here’s a video showing the process of measuring Hyperion’s height.
How old is the Hyperion tree?
As part of a species that is known to live for more than a thousand years, Hyperion is relatively young. The guy who scaled the tree, Steve Sillett, an ecologist at Humboldt State University, has stated that Hyperion is about 600 years old.
How is the age of trees calculated without cutting them down?
Calculating the age of a tree can be done by counting the rings of a severed tree stump. However, such a process could be damaging to a tree. There is a non-invasive procedure, but it’s not as accurate. The issue lies in the fact that there are too many variables that can change the equation. The age of a tree depends on its growth rate. Its growth rate, in turn, depends on the genetics of its species, local climatic, geographic, and environmental conditions.
With so many factors under consideration, an accurate calculation is sometimes no more than a well-informed guess. And calculating the age of a tree is almost an art form.
Thankfully, the folks over at the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), have devised a formula that helps to get an estimated age of a tree. Here’s how you do it:
- Find the circumference of the tree
- Get the diameter by dividing it by Pi (3.142)
- Then there’s this table enlisting the Growth Factor of various species.
- Multiply the diameter (in inches) with the growth factor to get an estimate of the tree’s age
Note that the growth factor itself can vary depending on local conditions and other factors, so this calculation is rough and will get you in the ballpark of the tree’s true age.
Which tree is the next in line to be the tallest tree in the world?
Hyperion is still growing at a rate of 1.5 inches/year. In what is probably the slowest race on Earth, the title of the tallest tree on Earth is being contested by another tree named Paradox. Paradox is currently growing at a rate of 7.4 inches/year and is expected to outrun Hyperion by the year 2031. That is, assuming both the giants maintain their current growth rates.