When you think of giant plants, you might think of the prehistoric goliaths that thrived in the days of the dinosaurs, but there are plants today that grow to incredibly huge proportions. Here are five of the largest plants in the world.
The Giant Sequoia tree, also known as the Sierra Redwood, is a holdover from the Triassic era and grows on the west coast of the United States. These ancient conifers are the planet’s largest individual plants by volume, reaching a height of 279 feet and a diameter of 20 feet. The largest, known as “General Sherman”, weighs over four million pounds and is approximately 2,700 years old.
There are taller trees than the sequoias, though: the Sequoia sempervirens, or Coastal Redwood, which also grows along the west coast of the United States, reaches an average height of 350 feet. The tallest of these, “The Hyperion Tree”, is over 380 feet high. There are also wider trees: the Montezuma Cypress, which grows in Mexico, reaches an average diameter of 20 feet, but the widest, the “Arbol del Tule” in Oaxaca, is 48 feet in diameter. And the baobab tree that grows on the savannahs of Africa can reach a thickness of 36 feet.
Though not technically a flower, the Titan arum produces the largest blossom in the world. These massive plants grow in the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, but many are also kept in botanic gardens and arboretums around the world. They are often referred to as “corpse flowers” because of the decaying odor they produce to lure pollinating insects.
After a growth cycle that can take up to ten years, the arum forms a massive protuberance called a spadix that, for 24 to 36 hours, opens out into a bloom. In the wild, the spadix can reach 12 feet tall and produce a bloom measuring over five feet in diameter. The leaves of the Titan arum can reach up to 15 feet in length.
Bamboo has many uses, as a food source, fiber, and building material, but most people don’t realize that this famous plant is actually a grass, from the same family as wheat, oat, and barley. It’s also highly prolific (some varieties grow at a rate of three feet per day) and a thickly growing plant, as well as the world’s largest grass.
One strain that comes from central China, Phyllostachys, can grow to over 98 feet in height, but there are even taller varieties. The Dragon bamboo, Dendrocalamus giganteus, which grows in the wild from Myanmar to India, has been known to reach a height of 150 feet and a thickness of over 40 feet in diameter.
Native to Sri Lanka and India, the Talipot palm is the largest palm and tallest flowering plant in the world. It can grow to up to 100 feet tall and nearly four feet in diameter. Each frond can reach 18 feet in length, providing material for everything from roof thatching to fabric for bags and umbrellas and paper; its fruit is used to make wine and its starchy pith to make bread.
The Talipot grows for between 30 and 80 years before sprouting a cluster of flowers that can grow up to 26 feet in length. After it flowers, the Talipot will produce fruit from the flowers for about one year and then die.
The record for the world’s largest organism—plant or animal—is held by the humble mushroom. In 1998, scientists discovered in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon a single colony of the fungus Armillaria ostoyae that covers 2,384 acres, or roughly four-square miles. Put another way, this mushroom would fill 1,665 football fields. (For comparison, the runner-up for the title of largest organism is the blue whale, which grows to about 110 feet long.)
Based on its current rate of growth, the colony seems to be about 8,650 years old, making it the oldest living organism on the planet as well. Armillaria ostoyae spreads by growing string-like filaments from tree root to tree root, and then it releases a digestive enzyme from those filaments to consume the roots.
In 2006, though, another team of scientists discovered a potential rival to the Oregon ostoyae colony: a colony of Neptune grass growing on the Mediterranean sea-bed off Ibiza that covers up to five miles of area.
Giant plants like all of these can be found growing in ecosystems all around the globe. They provide a visual reminder of the grand scale, and beautiful diversity, of life on our amazing planet.