Defiant Redwood of the Week: Chimney Tree

Meet the tree that refuses to give in

When you’re walking the Redwood Loop Trail in Big Basin Redwoods State Park – something a lot of people do because it’s not far from big cities of the Bay Area and it’s lovely – you see some magnificent examples of old-growth coast redwoods. Among these is the Mother of the Forest, the tallest tree in the park, and just a beautiful specimen.

Carved by fire, the Chimney Tree lives on

On your walk, you’ll eventually come across something called the Chimney Tree which, frankly, looks like the tree equivalent of Robert DeNiro’s character during the fight scenes in “Raging Bull.” It’s exterior is scarred and charred. Now this tree, like the other giant redwoods along this trail, is probably well over a thousand years old. But it’s hard to know exactly how old because it’s completely hollow. That’s right, numerous fires and lightning strikes over the centuries somehow managed to ignite the tree’s heartwood, burning out its insides. You can literally stand in its truck and see the sky through the top. BUT IT IS NOT DEAD. That’s right, this tree, which has suffered the kind of abuse that has claimed some civilizations, is still living and growing. If you’re looking for an example of pure bullish survival instinct – this tree is it.

The Redwood Loop Trail is a big tourist spot, and lots of people pose for pictures in front of – and inside – the Chimney Tree. And though it’s impossible to tell, it doesn’t seem as if the tree minds. It wears its damage proudly. And with its burnt-out maw, it seems to smile in those photos. “Thanks for visiting,” it might say. “I’ll be sure to say hi to your great-great grandchildren when they come for their photo, too.”

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Looking up inside the trunk of a massive redwood carved out by fire, known as a chimney tree.
Image of the interior of the Chimney Tree at Big Basin Redwoods State Park by FFoto.
Three people stand inside the burned out trunk of a massive living redwood carved out by fire, known as a chimney tree.
Image of the exterior of the Chimney Tree at Big Basin Redwoods State Park by BBeerbelly.


About the author

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish.

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