World's tallest trees tracked down

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Tracking down the world's tallest tree is a tricky business. For the past six years, the official title has belonged to a California redwood called the Stratosphere Giant, a majestic tree standing 370ft in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, about five hours' drive north of San Francisco.

Now, though, the same team of amateur redwood-trackers who found the Stratosphere Giant in 2000 have come across three trees in a neighbouring redwood park that appear to be even taller.

The highest, named Hyperion, has been measured at 378.1ft. Nearby in the Redwood National Park, south of the lumber city of Eureka, stand Helios (376.3ft) and Icarus (371.2ft).

Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, two amateur naturalists with a passion for redwoods on the West Coast, came across the three trees over several weeks this summer. They made their initial measurements from the ground with hand-held lasers, but now intend to return to all three sites, climb the trees and drop a tape from the top to fine-tune the heights.

They have to wait two weeks before they can do this, however, because climbing trees in the summer risks harming the nests a small seabird, the marbled murrelet, which is on the endangered species list in the United States.

The researchers have disclosed only that the newly discovered redwoods are in thick stands of other redwoods and very hard to reach. They intend to keep their precise locations secret to protect the trees.

Botanists and naturalists expressed delight at the discoveries. More than 90 per cent of California's redwood forests have been cut down. The trees are in an area designated for protection.