Walking in the Shadows

Redwood canopy.
Redwood canopy.

Yesterday, I wandered through Muir Woods National Monument looking up at the redwood canopy on a perfectly warm, late summer afternoon. I didn’t wander alone, I shared the paths with many park visitors, staff and volunteers from the Monument and surrounding Golden Gate National Recreation Area. My companions and I walked through the woods with a clear purpose to better understand the part of the forest that exists more than 100 feet above our head, the redwood canopy.

Before we started our walk, we reminded ourselves what a canopy actually is: the uppermost branches of the trees in a forest, forming a more or less continuous layer of foliage. This definitely felt instantly true as we walked beneath the redwood trees whose leaves were touching their neighbors in some places and not others. This allowed the sun to stream down to the forest floor in beams, making spider webs strung between the trees glow brightly many feet above our heads. The canopy was keeping the forest floor so cool and moist, and all of us were grateful to stroll through the forest’s natural air conditioning on such a warm, cloudless day.

We drew sketches of the canopy from below in Bohemian Grove and paid close attention to the shape of the individual trees towering overhead. Several members of our group exclaimed that no two trees were alike as they looked more closely at the shape of the redwood trunks and how their branches twist and stretch into the gaps between trees in search of light. The canopy remains a frontier for exploration in the redwood forest and captures our imagination as we try to fathom how the magnificent redwoods grow to such tremendous heights, shaping the forest for all of us along the way.

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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