Archabbey's sequoias should outlive us all

Fifteen giant sequoia trees, which can grow to be more than 250 feet tall with a diameter of 20 feet or more, are growing at various locations scattered across the archabbey property. (Photo courtesy of St. Meinrad Archabbey)


ST. MEINRAD — The newest additions to the St. Meinrad Archabbey’s grounds aim to further blossom the campus’ history and heritage in a big way.

Fifteen giant sequoia trees — which can grow to be more than 250 feet tall with a diameter of 20 feet or more — are currently growing at various locations scattered across the archabbey property.

Andy Hagedorn, director of physical facilities at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, said the trees that survive until next summer have a chance of reaching their full lifespan, which can extend well over 2,000 years.

Twenty of the non-native saplings were planted in April 2016 after being donated by Matthew Auman, president of Greenwood-based Dew Harvest, a seller of Groasis-brand planting technology products that help arborists and gardeners. Five sequoia saplings have since died.

Auman thinks the trees he donated could be a fixture on the grounds for many lifetimes.

“Some of the sequoias now living were already hundreds of feet tall when Jesus was born and the Catholic Church was founded,” Auman said. “And if the Earth is still here in thousands of years, those sequoias might still be there at St. Meinrad Abbey.”

According to science news website Live Science, giant sequoias grow naturally in the Western United States along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range at heights of between 5,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level and far inland.

In a story about the trees that ran in the archabbey’s weekly electronic staff newsletter, Hagedorn wrote that the giant sequoias grow well in the Midwest once they are established, but added getting them started is a challenge.

Auman has planted giant sequoias and redwoods — two of the world’s tallest trees — in various places across the Hoosier State.

In the newsletter story, Auman is quoted explaining that sequoias need a constant sip of water until their long taproot can reach deep enough to take care of the plant, which usually takes between 18 and 24 months. This is achieved through the use of a watering system called the Groasis Waterboxx — a plastic device that provides a constant source of moisture to young trees by collecting dew and rainfall and slowly distributing the water through a wick that resembles that of an oil lamp.

Auman, who recently converted to Catholicism, remembered carrying an interest in the massive trees since he was a child. He heard talks about how beautiful and hilly the landscape is near the monastery, and thought it would be a great area for the trees because they would draw people to the archabbey and he knew they would be tended to properly.

Next came a trip to Spencer County from his home in Greenwood. Auman and archabbey staff planted the saplings — which cost less than $10 a tree — in groups near the archabbey’s guest house, on the monastic cemetery hillside and on the abbey’s east hillside in front of the monastery. The sprouts currently stand between two and three feet tall and are about half an inch in diameter.

Auman believes that establishing numerous small groves of great sequoias in Southern Indiana could someday benefit the air quality in the local and global environments. The affectionately dubbed “little giants” in St. Meinrad are expected to grow up to five feet per year early in their lives with it taking 50 to 75 years for them to reach maturity.

Auman added there’s no reason to fear the trees will become an invasive species because breeding them is difficult. He isn’t sure how many of the 15 trees will make it to next summer, but noted even the unhealthier ones can bounce back and shoot into the sky. Even if only one takes, Hagedorn will be satisfied.

“It’s always enjoyable or fun to be a part of something that’s going to be around long after you’re gone,” Hagedorn said.

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