I might be a little biased given my position here at POST, but to me, redwoods are just the coolest. Aside from the obvious reason of them being the tallest trees on the planet, there’s so much to love about them. When I enter a redwood forest, I find myself breathing a little easier. They are awe-inspiring and, simply put, make me feel good.
If you’re curious, here are a few fun facts about these coastal giants that will help you become a resident naturalist on your next redwood hike. Study up and enjoy!
Redwoods need massive amounts of water to survive – according to a one report, as much as 600 quarts of water each day. To make it through the summer dry season, redwoods make their own rain – getting 15 to 45% of their water directly from coastal fog which they are able to capture from the air thanks to specially shaped branches and leaves.
Think of redwoods like giant fog receptors. As the fog rolls in, the moisture condenses on the leaves and drips down to nourish the tree’s roots and the plant communities below. On especially foggy days, it can almost look like it’s raining underneath a redwood canopy. And fog has the added bonus of reducing evaporation, making it easier for the trees to hold onto their water in the heat of the summer.
The oldest known redwood is 2,200 years old, which means it was already over 400 years old when Rome fell. Living to this age is not uncommon for this species of tree. One reason redwood trees are so long-lived is that their bark is like armor, thanks to built-in physical and chemical protection.
Redwood bark is tough, spongy, and so thick that it allows the trees to withstand low-intensity wildfires. It also has high levels of toxic tannins that protect the trees from fungus and insect infestations. These tannins also make the wood naturally resistant to rot, one of the reasons the wood from these trees makes great building material (especially for fencing and outdoor decking).
Because they are so large and live so long, a single redwood tree can support a vast array of other organisms. Think of them as giant apartment complexes. Over many years, leaf litter and dust from the highest redwood branches floats down and lands 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 tallest of which was itself over 40 meters tall!
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 percent 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.
In fact, recent studies have found that coast redwoods capture more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than any other tree on the planet, making them key to mitigating climate change.
And they go a step further by making their own clouds. They release a chemical called terpenes (the same substance that gives them their unique smell), which reacts with the air to make aerosols, in turn interacting with water vapor to make clouds. This helps encourage the fog they need to survive, deflects sunlight away from the earth and helps to lower surface temperatures. In short, redwoods are climate-change-mitigating champions.
The industrial logging that occurred in the 19th and early part of the 20th century decimated many of our redwood forests. Only about five percent of our old-growth redwood forests – containing trees that have never been cut down – are still standing. Much of what you see today are forests in recovery, with trees that have resprouted in the wake of decades of intensive logging. We need to help these forest recover.
Recent studies have also predicted that, in a worst case scenario, the coastal redwood forest range could decrease dramatically as a result of a hotter and dryer climate. It’s a sobering fact and one that would have global consequences in light of these trees’ outsized role in carbon sequestration. All the more reason to protect our remaining redwood forests and prepare them to be resilient in the face of our uncertain future!
February 28, 2023
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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 83,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more