Facts about redwood trees

Giant sequoias and California redwoods (also called coast redwoods) are nature’s skyscrapers. These enormous trees exist primarily in Northern California, Oregon and Washington and though they have a number of common characteristics, including distinctive cinnamon-red bark, they are different species.

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Giant sequoias

Giant sequoias can grow to be about 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter and more than 250 feet (76 m) tall. The biggest of these behemoths is General Sherman, a giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park. General Sherman stands 275 feet (84 m) tall, has a 102-foot (31 m) circumference, and weighs an incredible 2.7 million lbs. (1.2 million kilograms).

Giant sequoias can live to 3,000 years, with the oldest on record living more than 3,500 years. When they die, it is often indirectly because of root rot or another weakening of the base. Fire, root rot and dry spells do not typically affect the whole tree but if they destabilize the base, gravity can eventually take the tree down, according to Scientific American. This process takes a long time, as evidenced by the fact that sequoias are some of the longest living organisms on the planet.

Mature sequoias lack branches on the lower half of their trunks. Sequoia trunks taper as they rise, forming a rounded top where individual branches sweep downward. Their green leaves are small, scale-like, and arranged in spirals. Both male and females cones are carried on the same tree.

Sequoias grow naturally along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet (1,524 and 2,134 m) above sea level and far inland. That elevation provides the trees with dry mountain air necessary for their cones to open and release seeds. The snowpack from the Sierra Nevada provides sequoias with the thousands of gallons of water every day. Sequoias have shallow roots and require well-drained soil.

Because of its brittle texture, the sequoia is not a valuable lumber species. It was, nevertheless, logged extensively around the turn of the 20th century. Originally, sequoias could be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Today, they are found only in 77 scattered groves in Northern California. Among the places that preserve giant sequoias are Sequoia National Forest, Sequoia National Park, and Giant Sequoia National Monument.

A woman stands against a giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park in California. (Image credit: Rob van Esch )

Droughts in California have scientists worried about sequoia health. The drought of the 2010s left many sequoias stressed from lack of water, according to Scientific American. Though sequoias usually die under their own weight, recently scientists have seen some die still standing, and others exhibiting symptoms of dehydration, including brown foliage at the top of the tree. One scientist told PBS in 2015, “The trees are definitely as stressed as we’ve ever seen giant sequoia.”

Not all giant sequoia are suffering from the drought, however. Deborah Zierten, education and interpretation manager with the Save the Redwoods League told LiveScience that a giant sequoia’s response to drought is dependent on location. “There are some parks where they have seen a decline in recent years and others where the growth seems to be the same.” The differences could be attributed to fire suppression, weather, location and amount of snowmelt exposure, and density of the trees. “There could be competition in some areas,” Zierten said.

Fire suppression is another threat to giant sequoias. “Giant sequoias are very dependent on fire,” said Zierten. Fire helps release the seeds from their cones, recycle nutrients in the soil, reduce competition from other trees, remove undergrowth and expose bare soil in which new seedlings can take root and open holes in the forest canopy, which let in sunlight for young seedlings.

“There’s been a lot of fire suppression over the last 100 or so years,” said Zierten. “Some of the parks are trying to reintroduce fire to clear out that understory and stimulate growth.”

Researchers are working to understand how climate change is and will continue to affect giant sequoias. Lack of precipitation from snowmelt will probably be the biggest threat, said Zierten. Increased wildfires could also impact sequoias.

Redwoods

These tallest of trees reach heights of more than 350 feet (107 m). The tallest tree in the world is named Hyperion, which reaches 379.7 feet (115.7 m). Redwoods can achieve a diameter of 24 feet (7 m), and 1.6 million lbs. (725,700 kg). These giants can live to be 2,000 years old and have graced the planet for more than 240 million years. Though they once thrived throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, today redwoods are only found on the coast from central California through southern Oregon. They do not live more than 50 miles inland, and are usually found in long belts, rather than small groves.

True to their name, coast redwoods need a moderate, coastal climate to survive. They require the area’s frequent fog to protect them from dry spells and drought. Like sequoias, redwoods require abundant water to drink and have shallow root systems. Redwoods, however, get their water from rain rather than snowmelt, and therefore require consistent rainfall throughout the year. They even “create” their own rain by trapping fog in their lofty branches. With the right amount of moisture, redwoods can grow two or three feet in a year, making them one of the fastest-growing conifers in the world.

In contrast to their size, redwoods have extremely small cones — about one inch long. They have appropriately large root systems, however, often extending 100 feet (30 meters) and intertwining with the roots of other redwoods, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Baby redwoods often sprout at their parents’ base, latching onto their roots for nutrients. For this reason, they often grow in circular clusters sometimes called fairy rings.

The coast redwood’s lumber has been highly valued historically. It is durable, resistant to rot and termites, non-warping, and relatively soft. For this reason, it has been extensively logged. Since logging began in the 1850s, 95 percent of old-growth coast redwoods have been cut down, according to the Sempervirens Fund. Today, many redwoods exist in protected forests and parks.

The changing climate presents problems for redwoods. A warmer climate may result in less rain, and perhaps more concerning, less fog, which has historically been the tree’s defense against dry spells, according to an ongoing study by a group of University of California-based researchers. Fog in northern California and Oregon is on the decline because of climate change and the expanding human population along the coasts, which produce “urban heat islands,” according to a UC Merced researcher with the study.

On the other hand, a long-term study conducted by the Save the Redwoods League found that coastal redwoods have seen unprecedented growth over the last 100 years. They are still trying to understand why but one theory involves lessening fog in those areas. “We can’t necessarily attribute the spike in growth to any one particular thing, but we know there has been a decrease in fog in the last 100 years,” said Zierten. “This means sunnier days, and on sunnier days they are able to photosynthesize a lot. That could be a possibility.”

Climate change

Many studies suggest that redwoods and sequoias may also play an important part in mitigating climate change, according to Zierten. The trees have the ability to pull in and store dangerous carbon, keeping it from wreaking havoc on the climate. “Ancient redwood forests store at least three times more carbon above ground than any other forests on Earth,” according to a Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative study.

Zierten emphasized that these studies have focused on ancient, or old-growth, forests. The trees there are bigger so they are able to store more carbon. “Because they are such long-lived trees, they are able to keep that carbon in their wood for a very, very long time,” she said. “But it’s really about the forest, not the individual trees. Even the fallen logs store carbon, as do the under-story plants.”

For this reason, Zierten recommends that conservation organizations focus on preserving and restoring the old-growth forests that we still have, rather than planting more and more trees. “With second-growth forests, one of our goals is to do restoration to make sure they become the old-growth forests of the future,” she says. “A huge area of the range is second-growth. We need to take what we have and make sure the forests are healthy and continue to thrive.”

Restoration efforts depend on the species and location, but some common techniques include “prescribed burning, clearing out understory, thinning, cutting down smaller trees to give big trees more room to grow and invasive plant removal,” said Zierten. The Save the Redwoods League also restores creeks and removes some of the many roads that were built during logging booms and cause erosion.

Furthermore, the iconic status of California redwoods may help maintain public interest in saving these climate-helping trees. Zierten encourages West-Coasters and visitors alike to explore redwoods and sequoias in places beyond Muir Woods and Sequoia National Park. “There are 93 parks that conserve redwood and sequoias,” she said.

Other facts

  • In 1881, in Yosemite National Park, a tunnel was built through the Wawona “Tunnel” tree. It was so big that people could drive their carriages — later their cars — right through. The 2,100-year-old tree fell in 1969 under heavy snowfall (some blame the tunnel’s damage). Today, there are three other privately owned tunnel trees that charge a fee to drive through. On January 8, 2017, a massive storm brought down Pioneer Cabin Tree, a popular tunnel tree that the California Department of Parks and Recreation estimated at 100 feet tall.
  • A fallen coast redwood will often send up new shoots, growing new trees off of its trunk. This is called a candelabra tree.
  • Redwoods and giant sequoias were used to build many of the original buildings in San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento in the latter 1800s.
  • Redwoods and giant sequoias are adept at — though by no means immune to — surviving fire. Their bark contains no flammable pitch or resin and is extremely thick.

Additional resources

  • Save the Redwoods League
  • National Park Service: Sequoia & Kings Canyon
  • NPS: Redwood National and State Parks

Sturdy, stalwart, and superlatively statuesque, California’s coast redwoods stand out as some of the most impressive organisms on the planet.

Before the 1850s, coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) luxuriated amongst some 2 million acres of California’s coast, stretching from south of Big Sur to just over the Oregon border. One of three members of the Sequoioideae subfamily of cypress trees, the coast redwoods and their cousins, the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), hold the records for tallest and largest trees in the world, respectively.

For thousands of years the people of the area managed to live in harmony with these ancient trees, understanding the importance of their unique forest ecosystem. And then the gold rush happened. With the arrival of hundreds of thousands of gold-seekers starting in 1849, the redwoods were doomed. Logged into near oblivion to keep up with the demand for lumber, today, only 5 percent of the original old-growth coast redwood forest remains, fewer than 100,000 acres dotted along the coast.

The loss is heartbreaking … and gives all the more reason to sing the praises of these supertrees. And praise is easy, considering how spectacular they are. Consider the following:

1. They are ancient
Coast redwoods are among the oldest living organisms in the world. They can live for more than 2,000 years – which is to say, some of these grande dames were alive during the Roman Empire. The oldest living redwood known clocks in at around 2,200 years old. Aside from the pockets of old-growth, most of the coast redwood forest is now young.

2. They reach for the stars

Attaining soaring heights of more than 300 feet, they are so tall that their tops are out of sight. The tallest one of all is a towering beauty by the name of Hyperion (pictured above); discovered in 2006, this giant stands at 380.1 feet in height. Other notable specimens include Helios at 374.3 feet (114.1 meters), Icarus at 371.2 feet (113.1 meters) and Daedalus at 363.4 feet (110.8 meters). Because people are jerks, the trees’ locations are kept secret to protect them from vandalism.

3. They host sky-high worlds
Incredibly, mats of soil on the upper branches of the canopy support other plants and whole communities of worms, insects, salamanders and mammals. Plants that grow on other plants are called epiphytes; some of the redwoods’ epiphytes are trees themselves. Some of the trees that have been documented growing on the coast redwood include cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and California bay laurel (Umbellaria californica) … some reaching astonishing heights of 40 feet.

4. Their roots intertwine
One might think that such a lofty being would require deep roots, but no. The roots only extend down six to twelve feet. But what they lack in depth, they make up for in breadth. Extending up to 100 feet from the tree’s base, they intertwine with the roots of others, all holding on to each other, greatly increasing their stability.

5. They sip on fog

In the temperate area where coast redwoods live, rain provides water during the winter; but in the summer, the trees rely on coastal fog for moisture. The fog condenses on the needles and forms into droplets, which is then absorbed by the trees and shed to the ground where it waters the forest understory. Fog accounts for around 40 percent of the redwoods’ moisture intake.

6. They used to host geese
These trees are so big that when scarred by fire, cavities can form that are large enough to once be used to house geese by settlers. To this day, the scar caves are called “goose-pens.”

8. They have the cutest pinecones
You might expect such a statuesque tree to have equally dramatic pinecones, but in fact, they bear diminutive cones of just an inch in length, each bearing just a few dozen wee seeds.

7. They have ghost helpers

Amongst the forests of coast redwoods, there are around 400 small redwoods that are completely stripped of color. Having long stumped scientists, so to speak, recent research likely explains what’s going on. The so-called “ghost redwoods” were found to be full of cadmium, copper and nickel and other noxious metals. It’s believed that the wan trees are in a symbiotic relationship with their healthy neighbors, acting as a “reservoir for poison in exchange for the sugar they need to survive.” Read more here: Mysterious ‘ghost redwoods’ may survive to help nearby trees.

9. They were once international
While the stately coast redwood now lives only in pockets along the Pacific coast, it used to have a much wider habitat; they could be found elsewhere in the west, as well as along the coasts of Europe and Asia.

10. They’ve got thick skin
Named for the deep rosy hue of their surface, the redwoods’ bark is impressive beyond color. At up to 12 inches thick, it allows the trees to generally survive forest fires, which are actually important since they create room for new seedlings to grow. Tannins in the bark also do a good job at fending off damaging insects.

11. They are climate-change fighting superstars
Trees store carbon dioxide, which makes them an important ally in fighting climate change. But according to research, coast redwoods store more CO2 than any other forest in the world They hold 2,600 metric tons of carbon per hectare (2.4 acres), more than double the absorption rate of the Pacific Northwest’s conifer trees or Australia’s eucalyptus forests. Which is to say, if their majesty isn’t enough to woo the unmoved, how about that they are working to save the world?

For more on these incredible sentinels, and how to help protect them, visit Save the Redwoods and Sempervirens Fund.

And for a big dose of inspiration, read: This man is cloning old-growth redwoods and planting them in safe places

Updated: September 25, 2019

Facts & History

1. Tallest tree on Earth

Your local coast redwood tree can grow to 300 feet or more, compared to the tallest pine tree at 268 feet or the tallest tanoak at 162 feet — yet its root system is only 6 to 12 feet deep. Redwoods create the strength to withstand powerful winds and floods by extending their roots more than 50 feet from the trunk and living in groves where their roots can intertwine.

2. As old as the dinosaurs — almost

The earliest redwoods showed up on Earth shortly after the dinosaurs – and before flowers, birds, spiders… and, of course, humans. Redwoods have been around for about 240 million years and in California for at least 20 million years, compared to about 200,000 years for “modern” humans.

3. See 2,000-year-old redwoods here

Officially, the oldest living coast redwood is at least 2,200 years old, but foresters believe some coast redwoods may be much older.

4. Ancient Old-Growth – and Aspiring Youngsters

Most of the redwoods we see are about 50-150 years old. That’s equivalent to about age 2-6 in human years! Coast redwoods can grow 100 feet in their first 50 years, so they quickly look like grown-ups. So, when you walk or ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains, remember you are in a nursery of young redwoods that, if protected, can live for 2,000 years and can help rebuild a healthy redwood forest for people, wildlife and future generations.

5. Here and only here

Coast redwoods grow only one place on Earth – right here on the Pacific coast, from Big Sur to southern Oregon. Earlier in the Earth’s history, redwoods had a much wider range, including western North America and the coasts of Europe and Asia.

6. Latin or English: Semper-who?

The familiar local redwood tree has an official Latin name, Sequoia sempervirens. That’s why the local nonprofit organization working to protect, expand and care for the local redwood forests is called “Sempervirens Fund.”

7. Climate change heroes

Trees are crucial to maintaining a stable human-friendly climate. Studies show that coast redwoods capture more carbon dioxide (CO2) from our cars, trucks and power plants than any other tree on Earth. And, as the climate changes, the redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains are one of very few places that can provide a refuge for plants and animals here to survive, because the area has many microclimates, is cooled by coastal summertime fog and is still largely unpaved.

8. Wild animals thrive here

Wild, endangered creatures like mountain lions, Coho salmon and marbled murrelet depend on the local redwood forests. They need large, connected areas of diverse habitat to thrive among us humans.

9. Sturdy Survivors

Redwoods live so long – and are treasured by humans for building – because they are extremely resistant to insects, fire and rot. At one time, San Francisco’s building codes required redwood lumber to be used in the foundations of new structures. A redwood’s bark can be one foot thick, and it contains tannin which protects the tree from fire, insects, fungus and diseases.

10. We can all help the forest recover — and help us thrive

Today, we have a rare chance to re-establish the once-vast and vibrant local redwood forest into a magnificent, life-giving world between Silicon Valley and the Pacific Ocean. With a little help from us to get started, the redwood forest can recover from the massive logging and fragmentation that took place during the last 150 years. It will take care of itself – and all the wild animals, plants and us – for thousands and even millions of years to come.

Sequoioideae facts for kids

Sequoioideae
Redwood tree (Sequoideae)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genera
  • Sequoia
  • Sequoiadendron
  • Metasequoia

The redwood trees are a subfamily (Sequoioideae) in the family Cupressaceae, the cypress trees. There are three living genera in the subfamily. There were once more species of redwood trees, but most have become extinct.

These trees are pyrophytes, which means they have adapted to protect themselves from fire. Because fire is common in the regions where they grow, redwood trees have developed thick, fire-resistant bark. Their cones open only after a fire. Due to better fire control in modern times, these trees are endangered.

Redwood trees can grow to be very large. The largest species, Sequoiadendron giganteum, can reach up to 94.8 m tall and 17 m across. The tallest tree in the world is a Sequoia sempervirens named Hyperion. The largest tree in the world by volume is a Sequoiadendron giganteum named the General Sherman Tree, after William Tecumseh Sherman.

Description

The three redwood subfamily genera are Sequoia and Sequoiadendron of California and Oregon, United States; and Metasequoia in China. The redwood species contains the largest and tallest trees in the world. These trees can live for thousands of years. This is an endangered subfamily due to habitat losses from fire ecology suppression, logging, and air pollution. Other threats to its existence include: climate change, illegal marijuana cultivation, and burl poaching.

Only two of the genera, Sequoia and Sequoiadendron, are known for massive trees. Trees of Metasequoia, from the single living species Metasequoia glyptostroboides, are much smaller.

Taxonomy and evolution

Multiple studies of both morphological and molecular characters have strongly supported the assertion that the Sequoioideae are monophyletic.

Most modern phylogenies place Sequoia as sister to Sequoiadendron and Metasequoia as the out-group. However, Yang et al. went on to investigate the origin of a peculiar genetic artifact of the Sequoioideae—the polyploidy of Sequoia—and generated a notable exception that calls into question the specifics of this relative consensus.

Evidence for reticulate evolution in Sequoioideae

Polyploidy has come to be understood as quite common in plants—with estimates ranging from 47% to 100% of flowering plants and extant ferns having derived from ancient polyploidy. Within the gymnosperms however it is quite rare. Sequoia sempervirens is hexaploid (2n= 6x= 66). To investigate the origins of this polyploidy Yang et al. used two single copy nuclear genes, LFY and NLY, to generate phylogenetic trees. Other researchers have had success with these genes in similar studies on different taxa.

Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the origin of Sequoia’s polyploidy: allopolyploidy by hybridization between Metasequoia and some probably extinct taxodiaceous plant; Metasequoia and Sequoiadendron, or ancestors of the two genera, as the parental species of Sequoia; and autohexaploidy, autoallohexaploidy, or segmental allohexaploidy.

Yang et al. found that Sequoia was clustered with Metasequoia in the tree generated using the LFY gene, but with Sequoiadendron in the tree generated with the NLY gene. Further analysis strongly supported the hypothesis that Sequoia was the result of a hybridization event involving Metasequoia and Sequoiadendron. Thus, Yang et al. hypothesize that the inconsistent relationships among Metasequoia, Sequoia, and Sequoiadendron could be a sign of reticulate evolution (in which two species hybridize and give rise to a third) among the three genera. However, the long evolutionary history of the three genera (the earliest fossil remains being from the Jurassic) make resolving the specifics of when and how Sequoia originated once and for all a difficult matter—especially since it in part depends on an incomplete fossil record.

Range

Hubei and Hunan province, China

  • The native habitat of Metasequoia glyptostroboides in Chongqing municipality in south-central China.

California, USA

  • The native habitat of Sequoiadendron giganteum trees is only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada range of California.
  • The native habitat of Sequoia sempervirens trees is only in the Northern California coastal forests ecoregion, on the Northern California coast and several miles into Oregon.

Paleontology

Sequoioideae is an ancient taxon, with the oldest described Sequoioideae species, Sequoia jeholensis, recovered from Jurassic deposits. A genus Medulloprotaxodioxylon, reported from the late Triassic of China supports the idea of a Norian origin.

The fossil record shows a massive expansion of range in the Cretaceous and dominance of the Arcto-Tertiary Geoflora, especially in northern latitudes. Genera of Sequoioideae were found in the Arctic Circle, Europe, North America, and throughout Asia and Japan. A general cooling trend beginning in the late Eocene and Oligocene reduced the northern ranges of the Sequoioideae, as did subsequent ice ages. Evolutionary adaptations to ancient environments persist in all three species despite changing climate, distribution, and associated flora., especially the specific demands of their reproduction ecology that ultimately forced each of the species into refugial ranges where they could survive.

Conservation

Young but already tall redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) in Oakland, California.

The entire subfamily is endangered. The IUCN Red List Category & Criteria assesses Sequoia Sempervirens as Endangered (A2acd), Sequoiadendron giganteum as Endangered (B2ab) and Metasequoia glyptostroboides as Endangered (B1ab).

Introduced range

The two California redwood species, since the early 19th century, and the Chinese redwood species since 1948, have been cultivated horticulturally far beyond their native habitats. They are found in botanical gardens, public parks, and private landscapes in many similar climates worldwide. Plantings outside their native ranges particularly are found in California, the coastal Northwestern and Eastern United States, areas of China, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and near Rotorua New Zealand. They are also used in educational projects recreating the look of the megaflora of the Pleistocene landscape.

Article

Discover Your Local Redwood Forests—Rare, Vital and at Risk

by Sempervirens Fund staff

No doubt, redwood trees are huge, and redwood forests are super-quiet and peaceful. But did you know…?

1. As old as the dinosaurs — almost
The earliest redwoods showed up on Earth shortly after the dinosaurs—and before flowers, birds, spiders… and, of course, humans. Redwoods have been around for about 240 million years, compared to about 200,000 years for “modern” humans.

2. See 2,000-year-old redwoods here
Officially, the oldest living coast redwood is at least 2,200 years old, but foresters believe some coast redwoods may be much older. You can meet up with old-growth redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park on trails such as the Redwood Trail, the Berry Creek Falls loop and the Sunset-Timms-Skyline loop; at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park’s Redwood Grove Loop Trail and at Portola Redwoods State Park, where you’ll see the third-largest grove of ancient redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains—as long as you’re willing to take an 11-mile round-trip hike to get there!

Follow this link to learn about the ‘The Great Park’—a plan to protect the Coast Redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains for eternity.

3. Tallest tree on Earth
Your local coast redwood tree can grow to 300 feet or more—the tallest tree on Earth. Right now, there are about 50 redwood trees taller than 360 feet living along the Pacific Coast. Compare that to the tallest pine tree at 268 feet, the tallest tanoak at 162 feet or the tallest human at a mere 8 feet 3 inches. Yet their root system is only 6 to 12 feet deep. Redwoods create the strength to withstand powerful winds and floods by extending their roots more than 50 feet from the trunk and living in groves where their roots can intertwine. Redwoods are quite an armful to hug, too—8 to 20 feet in diameter.

4. Ancient old-growth – and aspiring youngsters
While there are 2,000-year-old redwoods in our neighborhood, most of the redwoods we see are much, much younger—about 50-150 years old. That’s equivalent to about age 2-6 in human years! That’s because since California’s Gold Rush (beginning in 1848), about 95% of the local redwood forest—which once stretched across the Santa Cruz Mountains—was logged to build (and rebuild) cities like San Francisco, San Jose and beyond. (Coast redwoods can grow 100 feet in their first 50 years, so they quickly look like grown-ups.) So, when you walk or ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains, remember you are in a nursery of young redwoods that, with protection and proper management, can live for 2,000 years and can help rebuild a healthy redwood forest for wildlife, people and countless generations to come.

5. Here and only here
Coast redwoods grow only one place on Earth—right here on the Pacific Coast, from Big Sur to southern Oregon. Earlier in the Earth’s history, redwoods had a much wider habitat, including western North America and along the coasts of Europe and Asia. Today, there are two other types of sequoia trees still living—both of them close relatives of our local coast redwood. The “giant sequoia” (officially sequoiadendron giganteum) grows only in California’s Sierra Nevada range and is actually shorter—but heftier—than our coast redwood. You can see them in places like Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. The “dawn redwood” (officially metasequoia glyptostroboides) grows only in a remote area of central China and is about one-third the height of our coast redwood.

6. Latin or English: Semper-who?
The familiar local redwood tree has an official Latin name, sequoia sempervirens. That fancy name (the last part means “always green”) is why the local nonprofit organization working to protect, expand and care for the local redwood forests is called “Sempervirens Fund.” That’s not to be confused with the U.S. Marine Corp’s motto, “Semper Fidelis,” which means “always faithful.” Here on the ground, it’s fine to call these magnificent trees by their American name, “coast redwood” or simply redwood.

7. Climate change heroes
Trees are crucial to maintaining a stable, human-friendly climate. Studies show that coast redwoods capture more carbon dioxide (CO2) from our cars, trucks and power plants than any other tree on Earth. So, by protecting our local redwood forests, we make a major contribution toward stabilizing the global climate. If these redwood trees are overcut, burned or degraded, the climate is harmed two ways: (1) by losing the trees’ power to capture CO2, and (2) by releasing enormous amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere. (Globally, deforestation and other destructive land use account for nearly 25% of CO2 emissions.) Keep in mind that as the climate changes, the redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains are one of very few areas that can provide a refuge for plants and animals to survive, because the area has many microclimates, is cooled by coastal summertime fog and is still largely unpaved.

8. Wild animals thrive here
Wild, endangered creatures like mountain lions, coho salmon and marbled murrelet depend on the local redwood forests. They need large, contiguous areas of diverse habitat to survive, especially as the climate changes and they need to adapt quickly. Mountain lions often travel hundreds of miles in a week. Coho salmon depend on unblocked, free-flowing streams to spawn. The endangered marble murrelet, a sea bird, only nests in the tallest old-growth redwoods and old-growth Douglas fir trees. Right now, it’s crucial to protect and manage the areas between existing parklands to create migration corridors and provide larger chunks of safe, healthy habitat so that wild mammals, fish and birds can thrive among us humans.

9. Sturdy survivors
Redwoods live so long—and are treasured by humans for building—because they are extremely resistant to insects, fire and rot. At one time, San Francisco’s building codes required redwood lumber to be used in the foundations of new structures. A redwood’s bark can be 1 foot thick, and it contains tannin, which protects the tree from fire, insects, fungus and diseases. There is no known insect that can destroy a redwood tree. Fire is not a big threat because the trunk is thick, there’s lots of water inside the tree, and the bark doesn’t have flammable resin like a pine tree does.

10. We can all help the forest recover — and help us thrive
Today, we have a rare chance to reassemble the once-vast and vibrant local redwood forest into a magnificent, self-regenerating ecosystem between Silicon Valley and the Pacific Ocean. Once we put the pieces of forest back into a whole, connected landscape, the natural systems can re-assert themselves and the forest can recover from the massive logging and fragmentation that took place during the last 150 years. Imagine a gorgeous, thriving redwood forest connecting Silicon Valley to the Pacific Ocean and supporting thick populations of wild animals, plants and human possibilities! With a little help from us to get started, the forest will take care of itself—and us—for hundreds and thousands of years to come. You can help Sempervirens Fund buy redwood lands, keep local parks open and enable private landowners to set aside their land as protected forest while it stays in private hands.

ABOUT SEMPERVIRENS FUND

Sempervirens Fund is a land trust based in California’s Silicon Valley that protects, expands and cares for the redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Since 1900, Sempervirens Fund has permanently protected more than 34,000 acres of local redwood forests and watersheds for people, wildlife and future generations.

The organization played a pivotal role in creating Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail and three other parks in the region that offer extensive trails, campgrounds and other facilities as well as old-growth redwoods, pristine waterfalls and abundant wildlife.

Today, Sempervirens Fund is working to reassemble a vast and vibrant redwood forest between Silicon Valley and the Pacific Ocean. (Follow this link to learn about the ‘The Great Park’—Sempervirens Fund’s plan to protect the Coast Redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The organization is involving new partners and new models to protect critical lands, increase public access and keep local parks open for the long term.

Back to Sempervirens Fund on Hilltromper.

13 Facts You Might Not Know About the Redwoods

Interesting Giants Live Among Us on the North Coast

Some of the oldest and largest living beings on the face of the earth live right here in the North Coast region of northern California. I am talking of the beloved Coast Redwoods, also known as Sequoia sempervirens; latin for forever living.

The Redwoods are, of course, one of the biggest draws for visitors to our region. Whether it’s in the iconic Redwood National Park, or via the many associated State Parks. From north to south, there is no better place to experience these majestic giants than right here in the North Coast.

We all know the core basics about Redwood trees, but here are 13 facts that you might not have been aware of:

1.

The Redwood National and State Parks is a partnership comprised of four parks located in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, which contain 45% of the remaining old growth Coast Redwoods:

Redwood National Park

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

2.

Over 1.5 million people visit Redwood National and State Parks annually.

3.

There are eight other sites where you can see the majestic Redwood on the North Coast that are not part of the National and State Park partnership, but offer world-class viewing options:

Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park

Navarro River Redwoods State Park

Hendy Woods

Montgomery Woods

Richardson Grove State Park

Drive-Thru Tree Park

Mailiard Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

4.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is also home to the largest remaining contiguous old-growth coastal redwood forest in the world. It’s comprised of over 17,000 acres of forest that has never been logged.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Avenue of the Giants.

5.

There are 50 Redwood trees over 350 feet tall along the coast of the Pacific.The tallest, named Hyperion (located in a remote part of the forest), stands at 379.9 feet tall. That’s nearly 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. More easily accessible is the Stratosphere Giant, the 4th tallest tree in the world (370.5 feet), located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

6.

The world-famous Avenue of the Giants is 31 miles long, providing easy access for all vehicles and plenty of easy-to-navigate trails for those that want to get out of their car.

7.

The first Redwood trees pre-date humans, spiders, and flowers, first appearing over 240 million years ago during the time of the dinosaurs. In comparison, humans have been around for about 200,000 years. The oldest living Redwood is said to be nearly 2,500 years old. It would have been a seedling during the time of the Roman Empire.

8.

In the summer, the Coast Redwoods depend on fog for life-giving water. The fog condenses on the needles and is absorbed, any leftover water drops to the forest floor. The fog provides the Redwood almost 40 percent of their moisture intake per year. Take a hike on a foggy day, crack open your water bottle, raise a toast, and drink with the giants!

9.

There are around 400 very rare ‘Ghost Redwood’ trees scattered about our North Coast region. These trees, stripped of all color, remove poisons from the soil and receive needed sugars from healthier Coast Redwoods in order to survive.

Leaves of the Ghost Redwood.

10.

Redwoods are so immense that they have their own ecosystems living on their large branches. Foliage shed by the trees settles on the branches and decomposes into soil that becomes host to worms, spiders, amphibians, beetles, and crickets.

11.

The largest mammal living among the Redwoods is the Roosevelt Elk, which can measure up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 1,100 pounds. You’ll find these beauties in the Crescent Beach area, Gold Bluffs Beach and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Elk Meadow, Lower Redwood Creek, park lands in the Orick Valley, and the Bald Hills. The Bald Hills herd is by far the largest in parks, numbering around 250 animals. The other herds range in size from approximately 10 to 50 animals.

Roosevelt Elk on Gold Bluffs Beach in Redwood National Park.

12.

The bark of the largest Redwoods can be 1 foot thick. This helps make them fire, pest, and fungal resistant.

13.

The pinecone of the Redwood, holding a only a few dozen seeds, is a mere one inch in length, despite its parent’s immense size.

Resources

John Kost is the Founder and Board President of the Social Forestry Project, which is a non-profit community organization based in Detroit. They are dedicated to assisting, enhancing and promoting urban forestry and green infrastructure efforts through environmental stewardship, community service, education, and fellowship. John is a passionate forester that annually conducts research for the University of Michigan and is currently working on his certification as an Arborist.

Redwood (Sequoia)

  • Needles are shaped like a double-edged sword, and occur in a flat plane.
  • They are typically about 1/2-1″ long and are green on top (although sometimes with white lines) with distinct white bands below.
  • Fruits are small woody cones about 1″ long, made up of thick, wrinkled scales. Mature cones are brown and scales can be moved easily with finger pressure.
  • Bark is reddish-brown, thick, fibrous, and deeply furrowed.

Redwoods have an interesting taxonomic history. Although several species of redwood (Sequoia) once spread across the globe, long-term climate changes have reduced their numbers and their range. Now, only one species exists, Sequoia sempervirens, and it occupies a narrow band along the west coast of North America, from southwestern Oregon to Monterey, California.

Two other trees are commonly confused with redwoods, but each is a separate genus: giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron, and dawn redwood, Metasequoia. Prior to the formation of the Cascades, when the Pacific Northwest’s climate was warmer and wetter, all three “redwoods” grew here. Now, giant sequoia grows naturally only in California, while dawn redwood is native to China. As with redwood, each of these trees has been widely planted outside its native range.
For more information on the redwood native to the Pacific Northwest, go to the species page or see “Trees to Know in Oregon”.

Redwood Tree Identification: Learn About Redwood Forests

Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) are the largest trees in North America and the second largest trees in the world. Would you like to know more about these amazing trees? Read on for redwood tree information.

Facts About Redwood Trees

Of the three types of redwoods, only two grow in North America. These are the giant redwoods and coast redwood, sometimes simply called redwoods. The other species – the dawn redwood – grows in China. This article covers some interesting facts about the redwood trees that grow in North America.

For such a large tree, the coast redwood has a relatively small habitat. You’ll find redwood forests in a narrow strip of land on the West Coast that runs from Southern Oregon to just south of Monterey in Northwestern California. They enjoy mild, even temperatures and high levels of moisture from winter rains and

summer fogs typical of the area. Over time, the forests seem to be receding in the south and expanding in the north. Giant redwoods grow in the Sierra Nevada at elevations between 5,000 and 8,000 feet.

Most coast redwood trees in old growth forests are between 50 and 100 years old, but some are documented to be as much as 2,200 years old. Foresters in the area believe that some are much older. The tallest living coast redwood is about 365 feet tall, and it’s possible for them to reach heights of nearly 400 feet. That’s about six stories taller than the Statue of Liberty. When they are young, coast redwoods grow up to six feet per year.

Giant redwoods don’t grow as tall, with the tallest measuring in at a little over 300 feet, but they live much longer. Some giant redwood trees are documented as being more than 3,200 years old. Redwood tree identification is by location since their habitats never overlap.

Planting Redwood Trees

Redwood trees aren’t a good choice for the home gardener, even if you have a very large property. They have a huge root structure and need an extraordinary amount of water. They will eventually shade out the lawn as well as most other plants on the property, and they outcompete other plants for available moisture. You should also be aware that redwoods planted outside their natural habitat never look very healthy.

Redwoods won’t grow from cuttings, so you must start young saplings from seeds. Plant the saplings outdoors in a sunny location with loose, deep, organically rich soil that drains freely, and keep the soil moist at all times.

Located in the heart of the Redwood Empire, at the very center of Redwood National and State Parks, Trees of Mystery is California’s premier nature attraction on the North coast! For over 65 years we have been educating, entertaining, and introducing visitors from the world over to this awe-inspiring natural treasure. Welcome to the California Redwoods!

The Amazing Redwood Tree.

These Are The True Giants of the Forest.

To someone who has never seen one, a Redwood tree must seem to be something from a tall tale. Averaging eight feet to as much as twenty feet in diameter, and some as tall as three hundred and seventy five feet. That is a tree taller than the Statue of Liberty, from base of the pedestal to the tip of the torch. A tree larger around and through than a Greyhound bus. Absolutely the largest living thing on earth. A typical Redwood forest contains more biomass per square foot than ANY other area on earth, and that includes the Amazonian rain forests.

The Redwoods in Pre-History.

These largest of living things are from an ancient line, and near-relatives of redwoods were present on earth at the same time as the dinosaur. Once found almost world-wide, their natural range is now restricted to the foggy coastal belt of Northern California (the sequoia sempervirens), a strip in the Sierra Nevada mountains of sequoiadendron gigantia and a small group of meta sequoia (Dawn Redwood) in a remote valley in China. These are the only living forests left of a tree line that at one time spanned most of the the earth.

The Role of Weather in Redwood Growth and Range.

The Coastal Redwoods thrive on, and indeed require, the heavy fogs that are normal daily occurrences along the coast. These 300 foot plus tall giants actually pull moisture into their needles at the tops of the tree where the circulation system of the tree can’t pump to. The 50-60 degree average temperature of the area are also important to the life cycle of these trees. These two conditions are limits to the modern day range of these awesome giants. They will grow about anywhere, as evidenced by photos people have sent us over the years of trees growing in such disparate places as Fresno California, Waycross Georgia, Florida and even one hardy voyager in Phoenix Arizona. But they will never attain their true size and stature without the Coastal fogs and temperatures that nurture them and at the same time keep other competing species, such as pines, stunted and sodden.

Redwood Survival Strategies Are Varied and Intricate.

The bark of a coastal redwood is very thick, as much as a foot in places. And it exhibits an unusual property when exposed to fire – it chars into a heat shield. It actually turns into a pretty effective abalative, similar to the way a heat shield on a re-entry vehicle works. The chemical composition of the tree itself is apparently distasteful or even poisonous to normal tree pests like termites and ants. That is why it was used as the first layer of boards in a wall, because termites and carpenter ants won’t burrow into it. In the 30’s to the early 60’s redwood was used as a separator between the plates of electrolytic (auto, truck and airplane) batteries. The wood could withstand the battery acid and still retain its shape. Redwood is very resistant to water-associated rot. It is not uncommon to drill a well in a creek bed in this area and end up drilling right through a redwood log that may have been buried there for thousands of years. The wood comes out of the pipe sound and in good shape.

Unusual Redwood Proliferation Strategies.

A live redwood that is knocked over will attempt to continue growing via its limbs. If undisturbed, the limbs pointing up will turn into trees in their own right, and this is indeed the source of many row groups of trees.

Cathedral or family groups of trees are simply trees that have grown up from the living remains of the stump of a fallen redwood, and since they grew out of the perimeter, they are organized in a circle. If you looked at the genetic information in a cell of each of these trees, you would find that they were identical to each other and to the stump they sprang from. They are clones!

The redwood burls are another survival strategy. Their growth is held in check by the presence of chemical signals in a living redwood. If the tree should die, or even be stressed, say by low rainfall or fire, the chemical signal weakens or vanishes and the burl will burst forth into verdant life. Burls kept in a shallow pan of water will grow almost indefinitely. They can also continue on to become a full grown redwood tree. At the very least, if watered they will produce a lovely fringe of green pseudo branches and make a very interesting looking and unusual house plant.

Lastly, there is the conventional sexual reproduction system of seeds. About 20% of today’s present trees sprang from seeds. The rest came from one of the various cloning-based proliferation strategies. Genetically, it’s the same tree after each successive cloning process. 80% of the trees now growing were produced in one these cloning processes. If you connect these two facts, you will come to realize that some of those trees out there could be the last in a 20,000 or 30,000 year (or more) line of the SAME tree reproducing itself over and over again! Genetically, they are the same tree that grew from a seed all those centuries ago! Would it be proper to place the age of one of these trees as the true age of its unchanged genetic material? I don’t know, but these amazing trees are truly ever-living.

Nature’s giants

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

Sequoia is a name given to two species of coniferous evergreen redwood trees of the bald cypress family that grow in a narrow strip of land in central and northern California and southern Oregon. Sequoiadendron giganteum are the Giant Sequoias that grow only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and are the most massive trees in the world. Some Giant Sequoia trees are believed to be 3,000 to 4,000 years old. Sequoia sempervirens are the Coastal Redwoods that grow along the Pacific coastline and are the tallest known trees in the world.

Ancient survivors

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

Sequoiadendrons once flourished as the dominant tree in Europe and North America during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods some 200 million to 70 million years ago. They stood with the dinosaurs, but when the dinosaurs died out at the end of the Cretaceous Period, the Sequoiadendrons lived on.
As the Earth cooled and rain patterns began to dry, these giant trees became extinct in Europe and only found a livable habitat in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California with its relatively deep soil and a permanent source of moisture in the soil from stream and sub-surface springs.

First records

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

The first record of these giant trees by Americans was made by a chronicler for the Joseph Walker party by the name of Leonard during an 1833 crossing of the Sierra Nevadas. But the world would not learn of these giant trees until June 1852 when an article by A.T. Dowd appeared in the Sonora Herald newspaper of Sonora, Calif. Soon the newspapers of San Francisco carried the news and within a year a London newspaper announced the Giant Sequoia to the people of Europe.

Popular curiousity

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

Botanists as well as the simply curious came from near and far to see for themselves trees said to be so large. Were they a newly discovered species or related to other known trees? What would these giants be called? Modern historians believe the name “sequoia” actually came from the Latinizing of a popular Cherokee Indian’s name, Sequoyah, who had worked for 12 years to create an alphabet so that the Cherokee language could be written. Even though Sequoyah lived some 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) from these botanical giants, his name is the best account for the origin of this unique and uncommon name.

Scale-like branchlets

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

Giant Sequoias are evergreen and their scale-like, blue-green leaves are awl-shaped. The leaves are one-eighth to one-quarter inch (3.2 to 6.4 millimeters) long and overlap each other while being aligned spirally on the sturdy stems. This leaf arrangement gives each branchlet a distinctive rope-like form. The tip of each leaf is prickly and the leaves are shed collectively with the entire branch.

Small cones

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

All Giant Sequoia trees produce both a male and female cone when they reach the age of 10. For such giant trees, the cones are quite small, about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 centimeters) only about the size of a chicken egg. The seed cones are green as they develop and do not reach maturity until the end of the second year. They may remain alive and closed for as many as 20 years before opening and releasing their seeds. The exterior of each cone has 30 to 50 spirally shaped scales. A typical cone will produce and average of 230 seeds.

Tiny seeds

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

The seeds of the world’s most massive trees are very small, 0.5 inch (13 mm) in length and 0.25 inch (6 mm) in width. They are about the size of a flake of oatmeal. A bag holding a pound of sequoia seeds would contain about 91,000 seeds. Two yellow-brown wings are found on each side of the tiny embryo that aid seed dispersal. Some seeds are set free during the hot, drying weather of late summer, but most are released as a result of insect damage or the heat from fire.

Young trees

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

Young sequoias take on the shape of an upside-down ice-cream cone for their first 250 years of growth as they are still considered saplings during that time. Young trees only survive where there are not other plants and taller trees blocking the needed sunlight or competing for life-sustaining water. Only a few of the saplings reach maturity, as many of the small trees are eaten by a wide variety of by grazing animals found in the sequoia forest

Reaching maturity

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

Giant Sequoias reach maturity after growing for 500 to 700 years. A mature sequoia will have a rounded top and all the low-growing branches will have fallen off, leaving the trunks bare for 100 to 150 feet (30 to 46 meters) above the ground. A special species characteristic of a mature tree is the trunk’s slight upward taper. Giant Sequoias can grow 250 to 275 feet (76 84 m) tall and have a width of over 30 feet (9 m). They grow larger branches (some 7 feet (2.1 m) in diameter) in their crowns and have thicker trunks so as to help the forest giants keep their balance in the harsh, windy environment in which they grow.

Beautiful bark

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

A mature sequoia will have a cinnamon-red bark that makes for a striking appearance on a bright sunny day. The bark is rather spongy and soft when compared with other trees and it may be up to 24 inches (60 cm) thick. As the tree trunk grows outward, the bark must split longitudinally, creating bark ridges that average 10 inches (25 cm) in thickness. The greatest thickness of bark ever measured was 31 inches (79 cm) on a tree found in Kings Canyon National Park in California. This thick bark helps protect the sequoia from fatal damage from forest fires as well as the very cold winters and hot dry summers of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Wide base

(Image credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher)

A Giant Sequoia has no taproot to anchor it. Instead, the sequoia has a shallow root system that can spread over an acre of earth and contains over 90,000 cubic feet (2,500 cubic meters) of soil. The matted root system reaches only 12 to 14 feet (3.6 to 4 m) below the surface and supports a tree that can be 300 feet (90 m) tall and weigh almost 2 million pounds (900,000 kilograms). The roots absorb even the slightest amount of rainfall and are in constant competition with other forest plants for the moisture. Scientists believe that a mature sequoia’s root system will absorb 500 gallons (1,900 liters) of water every day. That amount is easily accomplished during the high snow cover of winter but can be most challenging during the hot and dry late summer season.

About the Trees

Superlatives abound when a person tries to describe old-growth redwoods: immense, ancient, stately, mysterious, powerful. Yet the trees were not designed for easy assimilation into language. Their existence speaks for themselves, not in words, but rather in a soft-toned voice of patience and endurance.

From a seed no bigger than one from a tomato, California’s coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) may grow to a height of 367 feet (112 m) and have a width of 22 feet (7 m) at its base. Imagine a 35-story skyscraper in your city and you have an inkling of the trees’ ability to arouse humility.

Some visitors envision dinosaurs rumbling through these forests in bygone eras. It turns out that this is a perfectly natural thought. Fossil records have shown that relatives of today’s coast redwoods thrived in the Jurassic Era 160 million years ago. And while the fantastic creatures of that age have long since disappeared, the redwoods continue to thrive, in the right environment.

California’s North Coast provides the only such environment in the world. A combination of longitude, climate, and elevation limits the redwoods’ range to a few hundred coastal miles. The cool, moist air created by the Pacific Ocean keeps the trees continually damp, even during summer droughts. These conditions have existed for some time, as the redwoods go back 20 million years in their present range.

Growth Factors
Exactly why the redwoods grow so tall is a mystery. Theories continue to develop but proof remains elusive. The trees can reach ages of 2,000 years and regularly reach 600 years.

Resistance to natural enemies such as insects and fire are built-in features of a coast redwood. Diseases are virtually unknown and insect damage insignificant thanks to the high tannin content of the wood. Thick bark and foliage that rests high above the ground provides protection from all but the hottest fires.

The redwoods’ unusual ability to regenerate also aids in their survival as a species. They do not rely solely upon sexual reproduction, as many other trees must. New sprouts may come directly from a stump or downed tree’s root system as a clone. Basal burls — hard, knotty growths that form from dormant seedlings on a living tree — can sprout a new tree when the main trunk is damaged by fire, cutting, or toppling.

Undoubtedly the most important environmental influence upon the coast redwood is its own biotic community. The complex soils on the forest floor contribute not only to the redwoods’ growth, but also to a verdant array of greenery, fungi, and other trees. A healthy redwood forest usually includes massive Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, tanoaks, madrones, and other trees. Among the ferns and leafy redwood sorrels, mosses and mushrooms help to regenerate the soils. And of course, the redwoods themselves eventually fall to the floor where they can be returned to the soil.

The coast redwood environment recycles naturally; because the 100-plus inches of annual rainfall leaves the soil with few nutrients, the trees rely on each other, living and dead for their vital nutrients. The trees need to decay naturally to fully participate in this cycle, so when logging occurs, the natural recycling is interrupted.

Understory
Many different shrubs populate the understory of old-growth redwood forests. Among them are berry bushes such as red and evergreen huckleberry, blackberry, salmonberry, and thimbleberry. Black bears and other inhabitants of the forest make use of these seasonal food sources.

Perhaps the most famous and spectacular member of the redwood understory is the brilliantly colored California rhododendron. In springtime, the rhododendrons transform the redwood forests into a dazzling display of purple and pink colors.

Role of Fog
Especially during summer, the North Coast is often gray with a thick layer of fog. When inland temperatures are high, the fog is drawn in from over the ocean. This natural cooling and moistening system is beneficial to the redwoods near the coast.

Fog precipitates onto the forest greenery and then drips to the forest floor, providing a small bit of moisture during summer dry periods. Fog accounts for about 40 percent of the redwoods’ moisture intake.

Root System
Aside from logging, the most frequent cause of death for mature redwoods is windthrow. The reason for this is that redwoods have no taproot. The roots only go down 10 to 13 feet (3-4 m) deep before spreading outward 60 to 80 feet (20-27 m).

Large redwoods move hundreds of gallons of water daily along their trunks from roots to crown. This water transpires into the atmosphere through the trees’ foliage. Powered by the leaves’ diffusion of water, water-to-water molecular bonds in the trees’ sapwood drags the moisture upwards.

During the summer, this transpiration causes redwood stems to shrink and swell with the cycles of day and night.

New American Nomads

  • There are three kinds of redwoods – coast redwoods, which grow along California’s northern shores, giant sequoias, which grow inland in California, and the Dawn redwood, which is native to Asia.
  • Redwoods in the mist. Coast redwoods are the tallest living things on the planet.
  • Spike tops are often a result of an interruption in the tree’s water system.
  • Fog among the redwoods. Coast redwoods get 30 percent to 50 percent of their moisture from fog.
  • A burl on the tree to the left could be released to grow into a new trunk.
  • Thick spongy bark and cambium protect the tree from fire.
  • Fire that breaches the tree’s thick, spongy bark, can burn fire caves and other scars, injuries that seem like they would kill the tree. But as long as enough uninjured area exists to transport food and water, it continues to live.
  • One form of reiteration is the coast redwood’s ability to produce additional trunks, often hundreds of feet in the air.
  • The “earthquake tree” that measured 2.1 on the Richter scale when it fell across Cathedral Trees Trail.
  • Tom, 6-foot-3, beside the trunk of the “earthquake tree.”
  • Hidden from view, in the crowns of the redwoods, is another world, including leather-fern mats that gather plant matter and produce soil for blackberry bushes, other trees, and virtually anything growing on the forest floor.
  • Sunset over Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Prairie Creek has one of the largest pieces of virgin, old-growth forest.

In the three months we volunteered at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we were mesmerized by the beautiful trees from which it takes its name. Sadly, most of the old-growth redwood forest was mercilessly logged. Less than 5 percent remains, most of it in parks established after wealthy patrons purchased tracts in the 1920s, mostly from logging companies. Prairie Creek has one of the largest pieces of original old-growth left and several of the world’s top 10 tallest trees. Here are some of the interesting things we learned about these majestic trees. And, although pictures cannot capture their grandeur, I have included some photos.

1) Dramatic diversity: There are three different types of redwoods – Coast redwoods, tall and slim, that grow on the California coast and a few miles into Oregon; giant sequoias, not quite so tall, but bigger around, that grow inland in California; and the Dawn redwood, native to China, which loses it leaves in the winter. Even among the coast redwoods, there are differences, some being more frost tolerant, some more drought tolerant. Seeds taken from the different zones will retain the characteristics of the parent tree no matter where they’re planted.

2) Confounding conifers: The California legislature made redwoods the state tree before researchers realized the differences between coast redwoods and giant sequoias. Now Californians have two state trees.

3) Awesome ages: Coast redwoods grow more than 2,000 years, while giant sequoias can grow for 3,000 years.

4) Special seeds: The cones of the giant sequoias, about the size of an apricot, require fire to open and release their seeds, a fact discovered when no small trees were seen after decades of suppressing wildfires. The tiny cones of the coast redwoods, about the size of an olive, do not require fire. They have seeds the size of tomato seeds, and only one in a billion will grow into a tree.

5) Rare reiteration: Coast redwoods also reproduce by reiterating, or sort-of cloning themselves. They create large bumps, or burls, on their trunks that are bud tissue. When the tree is damaged or killed, it will release the burl to grow into a new tree. If the tree falls over, it produces a circle of trees, called a fairy ring, from the roots of the original tree. They are nearly identical genetically, but about 10 percent have a different genetic mix among their six sets of chromosomes. The trees also spit out new trunks from their sides, high in the air, often at more than a hundred feet. One tree that was mapped had 220 trunks.

6) Hella height: The coast redwoods are the tallest living things on the planet, growing more than 350 feet tall. They stop there, scientists believe, because that is the biological limit to the distance they can lift water. In fact, the tree can sometimes have a “stroke,” when an embolism, or air bubble, interrupts the water transport, and the top can die, losing its foliage above the injury, leaving a gray, craggy, brittle mini-snag or spike top in the canopy.

7) Remarkable roots: The roots of the trees are surprisingly shallow, only about a dozen or so feet, but they merge underground with the roots of nearby redwoods, wrapping and growing their toes together to provide mutual support. Still, they are vulnerable to wind, and several of the big trees fell this year at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. One, which we call the “earthquake” tree, fell about three months ago, woke everyone up in the employee housing area, and registered 2.1 on the Richter scale on a seismograph in one of the ranger’s garages. The tree fell across Cathedral Trees Trail, but park crews cut through it and moved a section so hikers can pass. The remains of the tree are still there, on its side, towering over Tom’s 6-foot-3 head.

8) Toxic tannins: The tree is full of tannins, which are toxic to most insects and other green, growing things, so while moss will cover the trunk and limbs of a spruce or fir, the bark of a redwood will remain fairly clean.

9) Craggy caves: The heartwood, or center of the trunk is the beautiful wood, impervious to weather, that made the trees so sought after. It is protected by thick, spongy bark, resistant to fire. However, you often see places where fire has breached the bark, creating “burn caves,” some so large that people lived in them, or penned their livestock inside at night to protect them from predators. As long as enough of the water and food conduction system remains, the tree will continue to grow, the same phenomena as the drive-through redwoods (none of which are in parks, only on private, commercial property).

10) Stupendous crowns: Up in the tops of the trees, the crowns, a whole other world exists. The trunks and limbs merge together, creating a lattice work where entire gardens exist. In some places, soil up to six feet deep has been found. Ferns, blackberries and lettuce lungwort are just a few of the plants populating this sky world. There are even salamanders that live their entire lives up there, never coming to the ground. Researchers say that anything growing on the forest floor also can be found growing in the crowns.

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