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Ten Amazing Facts About Redwoods

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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!

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. 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.