When We Can’t See the Trees for the Forest

Guest bloggers Doug and Joanne Schwartz – League members and dedicated volunteers – are serving this summer as our Redwood Explorers-in-Residence, exploring the northern parks, and ground-truthing and mapping the groves of ancient forest they find. Along the way, they’re documenting the many interesting plants, animals, and fungi they find in Redwood Watch, and blogging about their experiences. Continued from last week

In the course of our work, we’ll discover an especially big redwood, estimate its size, photograph it and take another moment to appreciate it, and then we walk on. Within a couple dozen steps, the giant has disappeared. From a distance, we’ll spot a tree with unique twisted bark, a car-sized burl covered with licorice fern or an odd reticulation. Then we move closer and never find it again. Or, we try to follow an old-growth redwood boundary line and have the next giant dissolve into the twisted complexity of a rich forest. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is thick with trees which crowd out the view of the one we want to see, and probably of many more which remain hidden from us.

The well-known Mill Creek Trail has become our favorite trail here. Walking this to and from some of our study areas has allowed us to pass close to some of the most spectacular forest sights we have yet to see: an astoundingly broad tree completely encircled with burls from the ground upward to over 40 feet; a grove of bigleaf maples, their trunks and branches dripping with moss and leaves shining emerald green in the sunlight; hillsides thick with redwood trunks of all breadths, each topped with a crazily complicated crown of leaves competing with each other for sunlight.

These trees, at heights of 200 to well over 300 feet tall and perhaps 10 to 20 or more feet wide, somehow manage to hide within a forest of their brethren and of other trees, shrubs and ferns. We strain to observe every little thing, but it is the largest subjects which occasionally prove the most elusive, hiding from us most effortlessly.

Summer Fungi

It is the “wrong” season to find fungi in the redwoods: the fall, after the normal late summer rains, traditionally yields more species and much greater quantity. Yet to our delight, this past month among the coast redwoods we have found a fine variety, often increased by the coastal fog. These include everything from tiny, delicate Coprinus fruiting on fresh black bear scat to a 25-inch polypore called “Artist’s Conk,” Ganoderma applanatum, protruding from the side of a tree, lush with fresh white growth underneath. While looking up at the towering redwoods, Joanne almost stepped on a sizable 18-inch-wide robustly fruiting Laetiporus sulphureus, commonly called “sulphur shelf” and “chicken of the woods.” This remarkable fungus was almost-fluorescent yellow and orange, and was growing right alongside a trail leading to one of our study areas.

We found two coral fungi, one white and one bright orange, Ramaria araiospora. These small clusters are nestled in the ground and just show their toothed tops now. And on the side of one of the largest (and oldest?) redwoods marched legions of British soldiers, the tiny red-capped fruiting fungal element of a lichen. Another odd one and a first for us were dozens of lobster fungi, fruiting under cedar trees: large, ordinarily white Russula mushrooms were covered with a parasite, Hypomyces lactifluorum, that give them a red-orange hue. Considered edible, but quite strange.

These fungi add stunning shades of summer to the green and brown color scheme of the post-spring-bloom redwoods.

Out of the Woods

We spent a day paralleling Howland Hills Road in Jedediah Smith, walking along Mill Creek and enjoying magnificent redwood trees deep in the forest. Within two crow-fly miles of leaving the forest we reached the rocky sea coast, where we listened to the cries of oyster catchers and watched flocks of brown pelicans skim the swells and piles of sea lions lie like fat pillows on an offshore rock. We stayed to see the fog push in from the ocean and sneak into the warm, dry redwood forest from which we’d descended.

We have now hiked several of these shaded coastal forests, sometimes seeing smaller, oddly formed redwoods, different species of fungi and plants, and blackberries ripening a bit later than their inland kin. As soon as we feel the familiar cool, humid air, we know we are nearing the coast, a bright and radically different world.

You can find pictures of natural history from Doug and Joanne’s travels on their gallery at ExplorerDJ.SmugMug.com.

Avatar for Joanne and Doug Schwartz

About the author

Doug and Joanne Schwartz focus much of their time exploring a variety of ecosystems and habitats around the world. They enjoy learning about each and its inhabitants, from fungi to critters and plants, and photographing whatever they discover.

bear reading the blog
Get the latest redwood updates in your inbox

Leave a Reply