This site refers to the three types of Redwood by the names commonly used in the U.K:
Giant Redwood Giant Redwood / Giant Sequoia / Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron giganteum
Coast Redwood Coast Redwood / Redwood Sequoia sempervirens
Dawn Redwood Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides
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First Encounters
The Wawona Tunnel Tree
Along with being told to "thump" the soft bark and you will not hurt your hand, a lot of people's first recollection of Redwoods is having heard about the famous Wawona Tunnel Tree.
The famous drive-through Redwood grew in the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite National Park, where an opening was cut in 1881. People rode through it for 88 years, first in horse-drawn carraiges and then in cars. It is hardly surprising that the tree eventually toppled in the winter of 1968/9 at around 2,000 years old.

It was the second standing sequoia to be tunneled (the first, a dead tree, cut in 1878, still stands in the Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite) and more Tunnel Trees have also been cut.

Although we are grateful that this tunnel cutting practice may have brought people's attention to these magnificent trees, luckily nowadays it is frowned upon. The National Parks Service says that in the early days, cutting tunnels through sequoia trees was a way to popularise the national parks and gain support for their protection. When present-day visitors suggest that a new tunnel tree is cut, the National Parks Service say that sequoias which are standing healthy and whole are worth far more.
Wawona Tunnel Tree
Wawona Tunnel Tree 1881 - 1969
Perhaps Redwoods caught your attention because of their sheer size, an example of which can be seen at the Natural History Museum in London. A huge section of a trunk is displayed in the Main Hall and is said to be from a Giant Sequoia that was over 1,300 years old when it was felled.
Fallen Giant
"..a quaint parade ground for some of Uncle Sam's troops.
Even the horses find the trunk a safe resting place".
The huge size of Redwoods is also often quoted in encyclopedias. The above pictures came from a British children's encyclopedia (circa 1930's) which states:

"In California grow the tallest and most wonderful trees - the giant Redwoods or Wellingtonias. They are the first cousins of our pines and firs, and bear cones like them."..."They have been found over 340 feet high, 150 metres at least three times the height of the biggest tree you've seen in this country, and at least as high as a church spire.""
Encyclopedia are not, of course, the only books in which you may noticed references to Redwoods. For instance, the late John Steinbeck, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote about them in his 1962 book, "Travels With Charley: In Search of America". John Steinbeck and his standard poodle, Charley, set out for a three month journey across America in a camper van.
Remaining Ancients
The last remaining members of a race from the upper Jurassic period.
"The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era."

"For these are the last remaining members of a race that flourished over four continents as far back in geologic time as the upper Jurassic period.
Steinbeck speaks of the "cathedral hush" in the forest where it is quiet for nearly the whole of the day.
"Underfoot is a mattress of needles deposited for over two thousand years. No sound of footsteps can be heard on this thick blanket"
"Fossils of these ancients have been found dating from the Cretaceous era while in the Eocene and Miocene they were spread over England and Europe and America. And then the glaciers moved down and wiped the Titans out beyond recovery. And only these few are left - a stunning memory of what the world was like once long ago."

It would be nice to think that some future writer will be so inspired by the Redwoods we have growing here in the UK.
Maybe you are concerned about conserving and planting trees in general for the good of the planet and perhaps became interested in the conservation of the Californian Redwood trees.
"The best time to plant trees was twenty years ago, The second best time is now." Anon
You may have heard about one brave woman's efforts to save a Californian Coast Redwood. Julia Hill was 23-years-old when she climbed into a 55 metre (180 foot) high tree in December 1997. She wanted to prevent the destruction of the tree and of the forest, where it had lived for a millennium. She stayed in the Redwood for two years, attracting world-wide attention for her non-violent action in defence of the forest.
"What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another."
Mahatma Gandhi

Lisa Simpson
If you have not heard of Julia Hill, you may have seen the "Lisa The Tree Hugger" episode of The Simpsons, where an old Redwood tree is in danger of being cut down. Lisa begins living in the tree but she goes home for a little while and, on her return, the tree has been toppled by a lightning strike. Another one bites the dust!
"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em.
Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
Country Houses, Gardens and Parks
Visiting Houses and Gardens is a popular pastime and this could be where you first saw an unusual prehistoric looking tree with the label, Sequoiadendron gigantuem. (example) If you would like to make such a visit, possibly to find a Giant Redwood, there are quite a few web sites that list Houses, Gardens and Parks in the area of your choice. For example, you can search for Historic Properties on the National Trust web site.

Although these places are great for seeing specimen trees, it would be good to hear from anyone who has found Redwood trees growing in more unusual places.

Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) at Halstead - Broaks Wood (Essex)

Many of the historic houses with large gardens, arboretums and public parks in the United Kingdom were built by the Victorians. The Victorian era (18371901) marked the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the British Empire and many more people could afford to travel.

The growing numbers of wealthy land owners stocked their gardens with the latest ostentatious features and exotic plants that were being brought by explorers from around the world.

Two of the many Victorian Plant Hunters were Cornish brothers William (1809 - 1864) and Thomas Lobb (1811-1894) and they worked alongside the famous British plant nursery Veitch & Sons. William introduced many species from North and South America, including famous plants such as the Wellingtonia in about 1853.

Wellingtonia trees were loved by the Victorians because of their size. They were planted in many gardens as specimen trees, and in rows creating Wellingtonia avenues. The naming of the tree caused an international row between Britain and America. In Britain the tree was named in honour of the Duke of Wellington, who died in 1852, although the Americans wanted to call it Washingtonia after the first US president George Washington. Owing to its biological similarity with Sequoia sempervirens (Coast Redwood), it was given the scientific name of Sequoiadendron giganteum.

The Victorian style of gardening was influenced by garden designer, John Claudius Loudon (1783 to 1843) who was a leading garden planner, horticultural journalist and publisher. He suggested a style of planting design that became known as the Gardenesque movement.

The garden designs of this movement were based on abstract shapes with specimen plants that were intended to look artificial. It relied on using non-native plants and displaying them in individual beds so they were able to develop their true shape, and could be admired from all angles.

One of the key gardens John Loudon designed was Birmingham Botanic Gardens in the 1830's. The gardens were originally designed as a private pleasure garden, but quickly grew and were open to the public.

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) at Birmingham Botanic Gardens

Largely Unforgettable
However you first encountered Redwoods, a good specimen is a remarkable and distinctive sight, and it is safe to say that it is not easily forgotten!

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