Scientists are uncovering new insights about the planet’s tallest trees. For decades, the scientific community assumed that the trees within a redwood “fairy ring” were genetically identical. But the latest in genetic research has uncovered that’s not always the case.

A fairy ring is a common name for a group of redwood trees growing in a circle, usually around the stump of a logged old-growth tree. After being cut down, a new generation of trees sprout from the roots of the fallen redwood, often creating a near-perfect circle or ring. This is one of the ways redwoods regenerate, giving them the tremendous advantage of already having a full root system compared to species that reproduce through seed.

Take a look inside a redwood fairy ring with this 360-degree photo from POST-protected Driscoll Ranch:

View looking up through a redwood fairy ring

What have we learned about the genetics of fairy rings?

It was logical to think the trees within a fairy ring were genetic copies of the parent tree given that they often appear connected at the roots. But research has found that there can be genetically distinct individuals within a ring. We now know that members of a fairy ring can also come from seed or sprout from the roots of neighboring trees.

Old-growth redwood - POST
Redwoods, like humans, have a variety of genetic traits. To preserve the long-term health of our forests, we need to preserve the genetic diversity of its trees. Photo: Matt Dolkas

Why is this so important?

As land managers, we are working to restore the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. One challenge in this work is that we don’t have a clear understanding of the genetics of our forests. Genetic diversity is a key contributor to the long-term health and resilience of forest, so this science into the genetics of fairy rings is just the type of information we need to make informed management decisions.

How do we apply this information as land managers?

There is more exciting research underway such as a five-year effort to sequence the redwood genome by our partners at Save the Redwoods League. Through this work, we will be able to develop tools to more carefully identify and preserve the genetic diversity of our forests.

It’s a very exciting time in redwood conservation. Ten years from now, redwood conservation and management will surely look very different as a result of this latest research. We’re eager to put this science into action in our efforts to protect and restore the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Stay tuned as we learn more about the mysteries of these giants and how best to look after them.

Want to hike to a redwood fairy ring?

Try this route at Pescadero Creek Park:

This easy, 3.5-mile round trip hike will lead you through the heart of the Pescadero watershed and some of the healthiest, continuous forest on the Peninsula. Fairy rings can be found in numerous spots along this hike, but our favorite can be found at the end of this trail. On your way, enjoy a massive old-growth redwood tree – over 40ft in circumference.


About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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