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General Grant Tree (America’s Christmas Tree) & Only Living Shrine

By: C.M.Shorter

Mariposa Grove "General Grant Tree"
Galen Clark
America’s Christmas Tree &  Our Nation’s only Living Shrine
Photo Credit: NPS
See Photos of Famous Giant Sequoias >>

Three groves of Giant Sequoias stand within the bounds of Yosemite – Mariposa, Tuolumne and Merced Groves.  Mariposa Grove, the largest grove of Giant Sequoia stands with its natural bounty boasting over 550 recorded specimens.

The area surrounding the giant grove of Sequoias was set aside set in 1890 as General Grant National Park.  Later this area was absorbed into Kings Canyon National Park.  Here within Grant Grove we find the magnificent General Grant Tree.  This immense tree,  the world’s third largest Sequoia (sequoiadendron giganteum), pierces the sky reaching almost 270’ in height, 40’ across at the base and 108’ in circumference and it is estimated to be almost 2,000 years old.  These giant Sequoia monarchs are the greatest living things on earth and occupy more space than any other single organism.  They are able to reach these epic proportions due to the ideal conditions of the Sierrian forest. 


General Grant Tree was declared our Nation’s Christmas Tree by Calvin Coolidge in 1926.  Later on March 29, 1956, it was then President, Dwight D. Eisenhower who proclaimed the General Grant Tree to be a National Shrine.  The General Grant Tree is our Nation’s only Living Shrine.  This famous tree was also dedicated as our Nation’s Christmas Tree to serve as a Living Memorial to honor our country’s fallen war heroes.   Each year in a Christmas ceremony a wreath is placed at the base of the tree in remembrance of those who gave their lives serving our country.  Today, this protected coastal forest is one of the last stands of Giant Sequoias remaining in the immediate San Francisco bay area. 

As these massive Sequoia trees were discovered they were often named for famous people or for the area of origin.  Other famous trees within Grant Grove are the “Grizzly Giant” - the oldest tree within this stand of Giant Sequoias, estimated to be between 1600-2000 years old.  Also, found here is the “The Fallen Monarch” - a tree felled hundreds of years ago.   As Giant Sequoias do not decay if left undisturbed, this tree is still lying in state, protected & preserved in time.  The “Wawona Tunnel Tree actually had a man-made “tunnel” carved right through its center.  A very popular tourist attraction and photo opportunity destination, many visitors made passage through this tunnel large enough to allow horse-drawn carriages or now antique automobiles to travel through its immense trunk.  The Wawona Tunnel Tree would not forgive such human indiscretion and fell in 1969. 

However, the largest tree in the world is the General Sherman Tree, estimated to be 2,200 years old. Named after General William Tecumseh Sherman, an American Civil War General, this tree stands within the Giant Forest region of Sequoia National Park

Artifacts, history of the Sequoia Groves, conservation plans & the stories of the mountain men who fought to save the unique biological terrain of the Sierra Redwood forests are preserved at the Mariposa Grove Museum which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Also: General Grant Tree | Cedar Key | Yosemite National Park
Related: John Muir |
Ansel Adams | Galen Clark | Theodore Roosevelt | The Florida Everglades

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