Species Spotlight: Coast Redwood

Coast redwood forest

If you are seeking an experience of quiet contemplation of nature, there’s no better place than a grove of coast redwoods. If you are lucky enough to find one that is off the beaten path, the first thing you might notice is that you seem to be treading more softly and lightly, as your footsteps are cushioned by redwood leaves and forest duff. Looking up, the bright sun is now filtered through many layers of forest branches and a cool breeze is heralding late-afternoon fog. Breathing deeply, you savor the distinctive mild spicy-earthy fragrance of warm redwoods, which will likely remain forever packed away in your olfactory memory. As you gaze at the beauty and complexity of the forest, and listen to the insects, birds and other sounds of nature, a sense of calm and peace will descend over you. These restorative moments can be called upon to carry you through challenging times whenever you need solace or peace.

The tallest living trees on earth, coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) can grow to over 350 feet tall – and may live for up to 2,500 years. This species is a champion at absorbing and permanently locking up carbon dioxide, performing an important service for climate resilience.

Celebrating Nature’s Inspiration Among the Redwoods

We will be celebrating among these venerable giants at our annual Nature’s Inspiration event at Sanborn County Park on Sunday, September 24, 2023. We are thrilled that Sara Barth, Executive Director of Sempervirens Fund, will be speaking. Green Foothills recently helped Sempervirens Fund gain permanent protection for 960 acres of land at Camp Jones Gulch in the Santa Cruz Mountains, including more than 700 acres of redwoods. If you’d like to attend or sponsor Nature’s Inspiration, please visit greenfoothills.org/natures-inspiration.

Coast redwoods once grew throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but are now limited to a 450-mile coastal strip from Big Sur to just beyond the California-Oregon border. Before the Gold Rush, coast redwoods covered an estimated 2 million acres of land; today only 5 percent of the original old-growth forest remains. The largest surviving stands of old-growth coast redwoods are in Humboldt County, but in the Santa Cruz Mountains there are also several state and county parks where visitors can experience the magic of these ancient wonders.

Coast redwoods are one of the world’s fastest growing conifers. Whenever an old-growth tree is cut down, numerous new shoots quickly sprout from the base, nourished by the extensive root system of the “parent” tree. If you have ever stepped inside a perfect circle of redwood trees, you are surrounded by a new generation that sprouted from an original old-growth tree.

Mature redwoods usually survive forest fires due to their 12-inch thick, fibrous, protective bark and lack of flammable pitch or resin. Bitter chemical compounds, known as tannins, repel insects and diseases. Intense fires, including some areas burned in the recent CZU complex fire, can penetrate through damaged bark areas near the base of a redwood tree, resulting in a large hollowed-out area, called a “goosepen.”

Scientists have recently discovered abundant life in the canopy (tops) of old-growth redwoods including aerial gardens of ferns, shrubs and even small trees. The federally protected Marbled Murrelet, a small pudgy seabird, depends on redwoods too. It flies several miles inland to nest on horizontal branches of old-growth redwoods high above the ground. The birds depend upon the tree’s thick canopy to hide each year’s single egg and young chick from predatory ravens and jays. Parents take turns incubating the egg, flying in and out at dawn and dusk.

Summer fog plays a key role in sustaining coast redwoods, which are able to absorb droplets of fog directly through their leaves. Unabsorbed fog will condense on their leaves and drip to the ground below, providing important moisture for many other forest understory species and reducing fire hazards. As California’s summers become hotter and drier, the summer fog will likely diminish or even disappear, causing the geographical extent of coast redwoods and other associated species to shift further north.

We will continue to support research and innovative strategies to help ensure that coast redwood forests will adapt and continue to thrive as they have done for thousands of years.

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