Of all the kingdoms of living organisms, the plant kingdom exhibits the greatest extremes of size and scale of individuals. From gigantic, massive organisms to extremely small ones, the plant species truly demonstrate the immense range of growth forms and size differences. Some record-holding plants are listed in this article; however, additional research may disclose new records of interest to botanists.
An individual plant of giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum ) in Sequoia National Park, California, named the "General Sherman Tree" is considered to be the largest living plant, as well as the largest living thing on Earth. It is a cone-bearing gymnosperm with a height of 84 meters (275 feet) and a measured trunk girth of 31.3 meters (102.6 feet). This plant has enough wood in its trunk to supply the lumber to build about forty small houses.
Two related plants compete for the title of the largest-leaved plant: the raffia palm (Raphia farinifera ) of the Mascarene Islands and the bamboo palm (Raphia taedigera ) of the Amazon basin in South America both have leaves of similar, gigantic size. The blades of their leaves have been measured to be 20 meters (65.2 feet) and their petioles measured approximately 4 meters (13 feet). Their total leaf length (24 meters; 78 feet) is equivalent to the height of a seven-story building.
Longest Total Root Length.
A plant of the grass known as rye (Secale cereale ), which has an extensive fibrous root system, was shown to have a total root length of 623 kilometers (387 miles).
The inflorescence of Puya raimondii, a rosette-leaved member of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae), is produced after 80 to 150 years of nonreproductive growth. It develops a panicle of over 10 meters (35 feet) in height, and produces up to eight thousand white flowers. After flowering and producing thousands of fruit on its gigantic inflorescence, the plant dies.
A vining tropical plant from the jungles of Southeast Asia, Rafflesia arnoldii, known as the corpse lily, has individual flowers that weigh up to 15 kilograms (33 pounds) and diameters reaching 1 meter (39 inches) across. The flowers are pollinated by flies and beetles.
The world's smallest flowering plant is a member of the duckweed family (Lemnaceae), Wolffia angusta, which is found in Australia. This extremely diminutive aquatic plant measures only 0.61 millimeters (0.024 inches) long and 0.33 millimeters (0.013 inches) wide, and consists of one or two leaves and a very tiny root. The plant floats on the surface of fresh water lakes and ponds and rivers. It flowers annually and produces a very tiny fruit.
Oldest Living Plant.
A single individual plant, the creosote bush, in Southern California (Larrea tridentata of the sunflower family [Asteraceae]), is estimated to be 11,700 years old.
Oldest Recorded Tree.
A coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens ), the Eon Tree of Humboldt County, California, fell in December 1977, and was estimated to be more than 6,200 years old. The oldest living tree is a bristle-cone pine, Pinus longaeva, found in the White Mountains of California. It has been documented to be at least 4,700 years old (measured in 1974).
Largest Tree (Biomass).
A giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum ), named the General Sherman Tree, is found in Sequoia National Park, California, and is considered the largest living thing in the world. It is also the largest plant.
Tallest Tree (Height).
A plant in the myrtle family (Myrtaceae), Eucalyptus regnans, from Watts River, Victoria, Australia, was recorded in 1872 to have measured 132.6 meters (435 feet) tall. The tallest presently living tree is the National Geographic Society tree, a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens ) found in Redwood National Park, California, determined to be 111.4 meters (365.5 feet) in height.
Greatest Tree Girth.
One individual tree of the European chestnut (Castanea sativa ) discovered on the island of Sicily was measured in 1780 and found to be 58 meters (190 feet) in circumference. Since that time, the tree's growth has caused it to divide, and it is now separated into three distinct parts.
A bamboo species, Bambusa arundinacea, from India was measured with a height of 37 meters (121.5 feet) in 1904.
The saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea ) of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico and Arizona is considered the world's largest (tallest) cactus; one individual plant from southern Arizona was measured at nearly 17.8 meters (58 feet) in height. Another species of related columnar cactus, Pachycereus weberi, from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, is likely the largest cactus by weight. While not as tall as the saguaro, it has many more branches and trunk diameters of more than 2 meters, and its mass can only be estimated to be in the range of 3,600 kilograms (4 tons) or more.
Seeds of the giant fan palm (Lodoicea maldivica ) called the double coconut weigh approximately 22 kilograms (44 pounds) and are more than 41 centimeters (16 inches) in their longest dimension. Giant fan palms are found on the Seychelles Islands of the Indian Ocean.
The nearly microscopic seeds of epiphytic orchids are dispersed by wind currents (similar to pollen), carrying the seeds from the ripe, opened orchid fruits (capsules) and allowing them to land on suitable locations in trees to establish new plants far from the original mother plant.
Various species of bamboo, members of the grass family (Poaceae), have been recorded as having grown up to 1 meter (3 feet) per day. A record on the island of Scilly, England, from 1978 documented that an individual Hesperoyucca whipplei (family Agavaceae) grew 4 meters (12 feet) in 14 days, or about 25 centimeters (10 inches) per day.
Of naturally occurring plants, a cycad (a gymnosperm) Dioon edule, has been reported as having the slowest growth rate: 0.76 millimeters (0.03 inches) per year. A plant with an age of 120 years measured only 10 centimeters (4 inches) tall.
see also Dendrochronology; Sequoia; Trees.
Robert S. Wallace
Mauseth, J. D. Botany: An Introduction to Plant Biology. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1998.
Quinn, J. R. Nature's World Records. New York: Walker Publishing Co., 1977.
Raven, Peter. H., Ray F. Evert, and Susan E. Eichhorn. Biology of Plants, 6th ed. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1999.
Young, M. C., ed. The Guinness Book of World Records. Enfield, England: Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1997.