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POST recently met its $50 million fundraising goal for the Heart of the Redwoods campaign six months ahead of schedule, and it’s not hard to see why our supporters are so excited about saving the redwoods: as one of the most iconic California species, the trees speak for themselves. But it’s not just their inspirational qualities that make redwoods so important to protect – redwoods are utterly essential to California’s coastal forest ecosystems. In celebration of the Heart of the Redwoods campaign, and the 20,000 acres of redwoods it will help protect, here are five of the coolest facts about redwoods:
1) They Make Their Own Rain
Huge redwoods require massive amounts of water to survive, and it’s extremely difficult to transport groundwater all the way to leaves in their upper canopies. Solution? Redwoods make their own rain – getting 15 to 45% of their water directly from coastal fog, which they are able to pull straight out of the air thanks to specially shaped leaves. The remaining fog drips down to nourish the redwood’s roots and the plant communities below.
2) They Grow Their Own Defenses
One reason redwoods are so long-lived (some trees have been alive since the age of the Roman Empire!) is that their bark is like armor, thanks to built-in physical and chemical protection. It is tough, spongy, and so thick that it allows the trees to survive wildfires, but it also has high levels of toxic tannins that protect the trees from fungus and insect infestations. In fact, redwoods are so resilient that they are rarely felled by disease or predation, instead only falling to human logging or competition with other redwoods for sunlight.
3) They Create Their Own Ecosystems
Because they are so large and live so long, a single redwood tree can act as an apartment complex for a vast array of other organisms. Over many years, leaf litter and dust from the highest redwood branches float down and land on lower branches, creating mats of nutrient-rich soil far above the actual forest floor. These ecosystems, called epiphyte communities have been observed to host up to 282 species of plants, fungi, and animals – including new redwood trees – all within a single tree. One old-growth redwood tree boasted 148 resprouted trunks growing from its own limbs, the largest of which was itself over 40 meters tall.
4) They’re Worth Their Weight in Gold (Er, Carbon)
Redwoods continue to grow throughout their lives, adding up to 1.6 cubic meters of girth every year. Because trees are composed of about 50% carbon by weight, each redwood sequesters an incredible amount of carbon from the atmosphere – and that’s not even counting the extensive underground root systems! Studies estimate that coastal redwood forests sequester triple the aboveground carbon of any other type of forest, which means that redwoods are a key player in mitigating climate change.
5) They May Be Dying Off
Scarily enough, a recent study showed half of California’s large redwoods have died in the past 90 years, and it’s highly unlikely that the next generation of trees will grow to be as tall as our current stands are. Though we don’t know exactly why the trees are dying, likely culprits include climate change, logging, and overzealous fire suppression (which has resulted in more small trees that much vie for fewer resources). It’s a sobering fact, and one that may have global consequences in light of redwood forests’ outsized role in carbon sequestration. All the more reason to protect our remaining redwood forests!
Learn more about redwood ecology with these links:
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects and cares for open space, farms and parkland in and around Silicon Valley. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 75,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.