The Oldest Redwood I’ve Ever Seen

Megan Ferreira and I stand next to one of Yellowstone's remarkable petrified redwoods.
Megan Ferreira and I stand next to one of Yellowstone’s remarkable petrified redwoods.

I just returned from a New Year’s trip through Yellowstone National Park, where I hiked out to see one of the petrified redwoods still standing on the forest slopes of Wyoming. This ancient redwood has been through an amazing transformation—its wood has turned to stone and the landscape around it has experienced dramatic changes over the millions of years it’s been standing.

The petrified trees of Yellowstone were most likely alive about 50 million years ago, when mammals were first appearing on the planet and the local climate was warmer and wetter than it is today. The ancient redwood relative I saw in the forest of Wyoming is one of many species of trees that are preserved in the park as stone relics of another time. The petrified redwood tree’s top, branches, and bark are all gone, but it is mind-boggling to see that the vertical base of this once enormous tree is still upright despite the many volcanic eruptions that have pounded the area over time.

I trekked through the snow with friends to find this mysterious ancient redwood as the sun set. It was exciting enough for me to see this massive fossil— but then at the same time, I also saw my first moose, so it truly was a mountaintop experience that I will never forget! I hope you get to play in the snow among the trees this winter and if you happen to be near Yellowstone, go see the petrified redwood and keep a lookout for moose.

Want to learn more? Check out this League-supported research that studies the ancient origins of today’s coast redwoods.

About the author

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

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