When most of us conjure images of national parks we probably see a sweeping landscape of snow-covered craggy mountains or a layered orange and brown desert. But national parks do more than protect beautiful landscapes, they also protect unique and amazing plants. National parks are the reason we can still visit some of these magnificent plants, like the giant sequoia.
Most nationals parks protect a diverse ecosystem and the national parks that are named after plants are no different. But their main focal point is a unique biological wonder.
Everglades National Park was the first national park to be set aside for the benefit of its unique diversity. Established in 1947, it is home to the largest wetlands in the world. Everglades National Park is also home to the largest continuous mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere.
The park protects 1.5 million acres of wilderness in a place surrounded by urbanization. Not far from Miami, it encompasses nearly all of the tip of Florida. Unlike the other four national parks on this list, Everglades is not known for one specific species. However, I’m putting it on this list because the “river of grass” is amazing.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas is known for dubbing the Everglades the “river of grass” to describe the sawgrass marshes. However, sawgrass isn’t a “true” grass but a member of the sedge family. But the Everglades is a diverse ecosystem and is also full of many species of true grasses.
Is it a cactus? Is it a tree? The Joshua tree is definitely a unique plant. A symbol of the Mojave Desert, the Joshua Tree is closely related to the yucca plant. At one time it was considered a member of the lily family. But modern DNA has aligned with the Agave.
The Joshua tree is mostly found in the Mojave desert between 1,300 and 5,900 feet above sea level. The tallest Joshua trees in the park are about 40 feet tall. That’s pretty large when you compare to its relative, the yucca. Joshua Tree National Park is in southern California, east of Palm Springs.
Native peoples found the tree extremely useful. They used its tough leaves to make baskets and sandals. And ate its seed and flower buds as a healthy and tasty addition to diets. The modern name, Joshua tree, came from the Mormon settlers, who thought it reminded them of Joshua with outstretched arms either in prayer or guiding them westward.
The giant sequoias are the largest trees in the world and grow between 5,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to the largest and second-largest trees in the world.
The General Sherman Tree with a whopping 52,508 cubic feet, is the largest tree in the world. You can find it in the Giants Grove in Sequoia National Park. The second-largest tree, the General Grant Tree, is 46,608 cubic feet and is found in Kings Canyon National Park. The Giant Sequoias are so big a few early European settlers literally made cabins in the trunks of fallen trees.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are adjacent and about two hours west of Fresno, California.
When you see a drawing of a cactus, it’s usually a saguaro. The saguaro is also an unofficial symbol of the American Southwest. I find this interesting because the saguaro cactus only grows in a small portion of the American Southwest.
These massive cacti only grow in the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert encompasses parts of southern Arizona, a small portion of southeastern California, and northwestern Mexico. Freezing winter temperatures limit its range.
Saguaro National Park flanks Tucson and showcases the Sonoran Desert.
An adult saguaro can weigh as much as six tons or more and reach 50 feet in height. They live about 150 to 175 years. They grow slowly, and in Saguaro National Park don’t usually get their “arms” until they are 50 to 70 years old. Places with less participation may grow branches until about 100 years old.
Much like their close relative, the giant sequoia, the redwoods are massive trees. While the sequoias can boast the largest trees in the world, the coast redwoods boast the tallest. The giant sequoias are a part of the same subfamily as the coast redwoods. At Redwoods National and State Parks along the northern California coast, you find thick stands of coast redwoods.
The redwoods’ protection began in 1918 with the Save the Redwoods League. A group of prominent scientists traveled to see the redwoods but also saw the widespread destruction along the way. Since 1918, the league has assisted with more than 217,000 acres of redwoods.
National Parks that protect plants
Some national parks protect the fragile ecosystem that surrounds a geological wonder, like the Grand Canyon. But for some, a biological wonder is the reason for their establishment. Visiting these parks not only allows you to marvel at nature but also brings understanding and awareness of why these places need protection.