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Redwood Forest Facts

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Coast Redwoods Resources

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Coast Redwood Resources

Coast Redwoods Resources

In 1769, Don Gaspar de Portola led the first European expedition up the coast of California. They encountered their first coast redwood at Monterey Bay, and named it Palo Colorado, or red tree, for its color. Coast redwoods can live more than 2,000 years, but ancient coast redwoods are rare—less than 5 percent of the original forest remains today. About 18 percent of the remaining coast redwood forest is protected in parks and reserves.

Learn more about coast redwoods with these resources:

Notes on cover photo:
Photo by Miguel Vieira, Flickr Creative Commons

Wildlife in the Redwood Canopy: Humboldt Flying Squirrel

Humboldt's flying squirrel. Photo by Nick Kerhoulas
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Wildlife in the Redwood Canopy: Humboldt Flying Squirrel

Humboldt’s flying squirrel, named after the famed naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, is a newly discovered species found in the coast redwood range and along the Pacific Northwest. The flying squirrels have a unique anatomy that makes them perfect for cruising through the redwood canopy. They use a parachute-like membrane between their arms and legs, called their patagium, to glide from tree to tree.

Notes on cover photo:
Humboldt's flying squirrel. Photo by Nick Kerhoulas

The Color of Leaves

Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

The Color of Leaves

Leaves are green because they are packed full of a pigment called chlorophyll. This pigment absorbs the sunlight light needed for making sugar out of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. When it absorbs light however, it only absorbs light waves that are red and blue. Chlorophyll reflects green light waves back into the atmosphere and we see green.

Trees in the Redwood Canopy

Many species of plants can grow in the crowns of tall redwoods, including this rhododendron growing from a decaying upper trunk 330 feet above the ground. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Trees in the Redwood Canopy

Redwood branches provide habitat for other trees. Scientists found a 40-foot-tall western hemlock growing in soil accumulated on a redwood branch hundreds of feet off the ground.

Notes on cover photo:
Many species of plants can grow in the crowns of tall redwoods, including this rhododendron growing from a decaying upper trunk 330 feet above the ground. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Water in the Redwood Canopy

Canopy view of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Water in the Redwood Canopy

Water is “pulled” to the tops of redwoods partially by cohesion, or the attraction among water molecules.

Notes on cover photo:
Canopy view of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Why Do We Have Tall Trees Up North?

Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Why Do We Have Tall Trees Up North?

In northern Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, the redwood forests get nearly double the rainfall that the forests to the south get. When trees have more access to water, they get to keep the pores in their leaves open more often to absorb carbon dioxide (the raw material needed for photosynthesis and growth). More water means less stress and more growth and when trees grow they love to add vertical growth and get taller so that they maintain their competitive advantage over neighboring trees. Also, drier forest conditions (like in the south) lead to more frequent fires. The trees in the south can’t allocate as much energy to growing taller when they frequently get burned and need to heal after fires.

Notes on cover photo:
Fog flowing into Del Norte Redwoods State Park.

Wildlife in the Coast Redwood Canopy

Will wandering salamanders be among the creatures found in the canopy during the BioBlitz? Photo by Dan Portik
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Wildlife in the Coast Redwood Canopy

In recent years, scientists have discovered many species that live their entire lives in the coast redwood canopy, including worms, salamanders and plants such as Sitka spruce, ferns and huckleberry.

Notes on cover photo:
Will wandering salamanders be among the creatures found in the canopy during the BioBlitz? Photo by Dan Portik

Wildlife in the Giant Sequoia Canopy

Big brown bat. Photo by Don Pfitzer, USFWS
Giant Sequoia Upper-Canopy

Wildlife in the Giant Sequoia Canopy

Woodpeckers and other birds and bats eat insects living in the giant sequoias.

Notes on cover photo:
Big brown bat. Photo by Don Pfitzer, USFWS

Wildlife in the Redwood Canopy: Northern Spotted Owl

A study found that thinned areas supported higher populations of prey species for the endangered northern spotted owl (pictured) and the rare Humboldt marten.
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Wildlife in the Redwood Canopy: Northern Spotted Owl

On the Green Diamond Resource Co. property in Humboldt County, spotted owls feed primarily on the dusky-footed wood rat. Owl counts are conducted by foresters using a method where a mouse crawls up a stick held in the air and the owl swoops down silently for the snack.

Notes on cover photo:
A study found that thinned areas supported higher populations of prey species for the endangered northern spotted owl (pictured) and the rare Humboldt marten.

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Wandering Salamander

Wandering salamander. Photo by Dan Portik
Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Wandering Salamander

The wandering salamander (Aneides vagrans, pictured above) lives on the tops of redwood trees. David Wake, Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, named the species.

Notes on cover photo:
Wandering salamander. Photo by Dan Portik

Wilting Redwood Sorrel in the Coast Redwood Understory?

Coast Redwood Understory

Wilting Redwood Sorrel in the Coast Redwood Understory?

Ever wonder why redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregano) leaves appear to wilt in the sun? This herbaceous, shade-loving plant will get sunburned with prolonged exposure to the sunlight and so leaflets fold downwards as a protective response. Remarkably, the plant isn’t wilting (involuntary collapse) and is instead actively moving the leaflets, similar to how a Venus fly-trap plant closes its trap quickly to catch flies.

Notes on cover photo:
Delicate leaves of Redwood Sorrel in the shade of the coast redwoods.

Coast Redwood Reproduction

Redwood seedlings.
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Coast Redwood Reproduction

Coast redwoods are monoecious, meaning that male and female reproductive parts are present on the same plant.

Notes on cover photo:
Redwood seedlings.

Coast Redwood Seeds

Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Coast Redwood Seeds

Redwoods are conifers, which means they have cones and needle-like leaves. Mature cones in the canopy dry and shrink in low humidity, opening up their scales to expose the seeds, which are easily dislodged by the wind. A coast redwood cone is about 1 inch long and contains 14 to 24 tiny seeds about the size of a tomato seed. It would take well over 100,000 seeds to weigh a pound! A single tree may produce millions of seeds in a year. Only a small percentage of the seeds actually germinate and grow into seedlings.

Notes on cover photo:
Redwood seeds hidden within this green cone won't join the forest seed bank because the cone fell off the tree too soon.

Coast Redwood Size

Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Coast Redwood Size

Coast redwoods grow more than 360 feet tall and have trunks up to 24 feet around near the ground. Redwood is among the fastest growing trees in the world. In good conditions, redwood seedlings grow sometimes more than a foot annually. Coast redwoods have the potential to gain most of their height at a relatively young age. Upon reaching the canopy, a redwood’s uppermost foliage is exposed to more sunlight, wind and lower humidity, slowing the vertical growth dramatically.

Notes on cover photo:
Montgomery Woods State Park

Discovery of Marbled Murrelets Nests

The marbled murrelet is an endangered seabird that nests exclusively in old-growth forest canopies. We found this nest at the base of two large branches 306 feet above the ground in a nearly 370-foot-tall redwood. The nest is really nothing more than a ring of feces deposited by the chick before it flew to the ocean in search of fish! Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Discovery of Marbled Murrelets Nests

The marbled murrelet was first described at sea in 1789 by Johann Friedrich Gmelin, but it was not until more than 125 years later that these birds were proven to nest on land. For decades, loggers and biologists had noticed the small seabirds flying inland in the Pacific Northwest (first observation was in 1896 in Alaska) and referred to the mysterious birds as “fog larks” in reference to their distinctive bird call. In 1918, the first marbled murrelet chicks were discovered on the forest floor in Minerva, Oregon after loggers had cut down trees in the area. In 1974, the first published account of a well-documented tree nest was a Douglas-fir at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This observation is widely accepted and finally eliminated all doubt that marbled murrelets use old conifer trees for nesting.

Notes on cover photo:
The marbled murrelet is an endangered seabird that nests exclusively in old-growth forest canopies. We found this nest at the base of two large branches 306 feet above the ground in a nearly 370-foot-tall redwood. The nest is really nothing more than a ring of feces deposited by the chick before it flew to the ocean in search of fish! Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Giant Sequoia Seeds

Sequoia cones.
Giant Sequoia Upper-Canopy

Giant Sequoia Seeds

Mature cones in the canopy dry and shrink in low humidity, opening up their scales to expose the seeds, which are easily dislodged by the wind. A typical sequoia cone is about 2.5 inches long and contains about 200 tiny seeds, each the size and shape of a flake of oatmeal. A single large sequoia may produce 400,000 seeds in a year, but only a very small percentage germinate.

Notes on cover photo:
Sequoia cones.

Growth of Giant Sequoias

Good giant sequoia regeneration was strongly associated with canopy gaps. Photo by Marc D. Meyer
Giant Sequoia Upper-Canopy

Growth of Giant Sequoias

Giant sequoias grow so large because they live a very long time and grow quickly.

Notes on cover photo:
Good giant sequoia regeneration was strongly associated with canopy gaps. Photo by Marc D. Meyer

Hormones Shape Redwoods

Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Hormones Shape Redwoods

Hormones regulate the growth of trees. One such hormone (called auxin) is produced at the growing tip of the treetop. Auxin prevents branch growth at the top of the tree to make sure that the mid-crown branches get enough sunlight to survive. If it weren’t for auxin, redwood trees would be round and would not be nearly as tall.

Notes on cover photo:
Sun filters through the Cathedral-like coast redwood forest of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Photo by Stephen Sillett.

Marbled Murrelets in the Coast Redwood Canopy

Marbled murrelet nest. Photo by Tom Hamer
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Marbled Murrelets in the Coast Redwood Canopy

Endangered marbled murrelets nest only in old cone-bearing trees with branches large enough to prevent the single egg laid from rolling off. The chick sits on the branch for about a month after it hatches and then flies westward to start its own adult life on the sea. More than 75% of all California’s marbled murrelets nest in the old forests of Redwood National and State Parks.

Notes on cover photo:
Marbled murrelet nest. Photo by Tom Hamer

Moss Mats in Old Forest Canopies

Epiphytic mushrooms and moss growing on a redwood branch. Photo by Steve Sillett
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Moss Mats in Old Forest Canopies

Zoe Lindo and Jonathan Whiteley at McGill University found cyanobacteria in mosses growing in the redwood canopy. These bacteria take nitrogen gas out of the atmosphere and convert it into nitrogen compounds that plants need to grow. Before this study, it was thought that this natural fertilization in moss mats only happened on the forest floor.

Notes on cover photo:
Epiphytic mushrooms and moss growing on a redwood branch. Photo by Steve Sillett

Northern Spotted Owl in the Redwood Canopy

The spotted owl is another irreplaceable redwoods inhabitant. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Northern Spotted Owl in the Redwood Canopy

The imperiled northern spotted owl depends on habitats including old-growth redwood forests, partly because it nests in tree cavities and on large branches.

Notes on cover photo:
The spotted owl is another irreplaceable redwoods inhabitant. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Redwood Canopy

From the top of the canopy looking down. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Redwood Canopy

The canopy, the uppermost level of the forest, is formed by the crowns of the biggest trees. Because its canopy is so thick, sunlight does not always reach the coast redwood forest floor.

Notes on cover photo:
From the top of the canopy looking down. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Redwood Leaves

Redwood leaves and bark. Photo by Joanne and Doug Schwartz
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Redwood Leaves

To protect themselves, redwood leaves secrete waxes arranged in a complex layer. This layer limits water loss and allows carbon dioxide to enter the leaf for photosynthesis.

Notes on cover photo:
Redwood leaves and bark. Photo by Joanne and Doug Schwartz

Redwoods Shed Leaves

Coast redwood boasting colorful fall leaves at Humboldt Redwoods State Park in August.
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Redwoods Shed Leaves

Autumn is when the oldest, most shaded redwood leaves die from old age. Even though redwoods are evergreen, meaning they keep green leaves on their crown year-round, they still need to shed the oldest leaves that cost the tree too much to support since they no longer do photosynthesis efficiently. These leaves are usually the orange ones on the underside of redwood branches.

Notes on cover photo:
Coast redwood boasting colorful fall leaves at Humboldt Redwoods State Park in August.

Sizes of Redwood Leaves

Photo by Sean Dreilinger, Flickr Creative Commons
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Sizes of Redwood Leaves

Redwoods can grow well in range of conditions because their genetic code gives them the flexibility to build many forms of leaves on the same tree. Leaves at the tree top are tiny in comparison to the leaves growing at the bottom of the tree. This is because the leaves at the bottom are in the shade and need more surface area to absorb light.

Notes on cover photo:
Photo by Sean Dreilinger, Flickr Creative Commons

Soil Mats in the Redwood Canopy

The evergreen fern Polypodium scouleri growns in thick mats high above the ground. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Upper-Canopy

Soil Mats in the Redwood Canopy

Soil can be found high in the branches of coast redwood trees. This soil comes from the huge quantity of leaves that the tree sheds each year, some of which collect at the base of large branches and decompose into soil. In studying these soil mats, scientists have found an astonishing number of plants and animals, including beetles, crickets, earthworms, millipedes, salamanders, various fungi, ferns and even young trees—all living hundreds of feet in the air.

Notes on cover photo:
The evergreen fern Polypodium scouleri growns in thick mats high above the ground. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Spirals in Giant Sequoia Cones

Giant sequoia cones. Photo by Mark Bult
Giant Sequoia Upper-Canopy

Spirals in Giant Sequoia Cones

If you look at a giant sequoia cone with the bottom end facing you, you will notice that the scales form spirals. This is the Fibonacci sequence found everywhere in nature: in the spiral of snail shells and in the shape of storms and breaking waves, for example.

Notes on cover photo:
Giant sequoia cones. Photo by Mark Bult

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Rhododendrons

Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Rhododendrons

Rhododendron macrophyllum means “rose tree with big leaves.” This shrub grows in the understory from Santa Cruz up to Del Norte and begins blooming in May. As summer approaches, this shrub will begin relying heavily on fog water. Todd Dawson, one of our lead RCCI scientists, found that up to 45% of the water this species depends on during the summer comes from fog (rather than residual rain water in the soil).

Notes on cover photo:
rhododendron, damnation creek trail

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Slender False Brome

Brachypodium sylvaticum. Photo by Kristian Peters -- Fabelfroh 11:41, 11 October 2007 (UTC) (photographed by Kristian Peters) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Slender False Brome

Slender false brome, a bunch grass, has spread from Northern Africa, gaining its first stronghold in California. Now in the Woodside area, it is quickly spreading by seed on the forest floor under the redwoods. If it continues to spread, this species may compete with our native plants.

Notes on cover photo:
Brachypodium sylvaticum. Photo by Kristian Peters -- Fabelfroh 11:41, 11 October 2007 (UTC) (photographed by Kristian Peters) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Sword Ferns

Some sword ferns grow right along creek edge to get maximum water and sunlight.
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Sword Ferns

The hardy leaves of sword fern (Polystichum munitum) are most vulnerable in the spring when they are brand new. Fern fronds emerge as fiddleheads covered in tough scales that protect the delicate leaf as it grows. As the leaf uncurls, it is vulnerable to being eaten by insects like caterpillars that munch away on the young sword fern fronds. Caterpillars can hide in curled up frond tips and their munching causes fern fronds to be deformed as they develop.

Notes on cover photo:
Some sword ferns grow right along creek edge to get maximum water and sunlight.

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Trillium

This trillium heralds spring at Loma Mar Redwoods. Photo by Paolo Vescia
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Trillium

Trillium, a beautiful plant that grows underfoot among the redwoods and in other North American forests, makes seeds that are covered in a fleshy wrapper (called an elaiosome). Usually, trillium seeds are dispersed throughout the forest by ants, but yellow jackets move their seeds too. The yellow jackets collect the seeds and eat the elaiosome, but not the seed itself. This means that trillium seeds get airlifted to new parts of the forest by these yellow, winged creatures.

Notes on cover photo:
This trillium heralds spring at Loma Mar Redwoods. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Plants of the Redwood Understory Sequester Carbon

RCCI scientists study the impact of climate change on the redwood forest.
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants of the Redwood Understory Sequester Carbon

Collectively, North American forests sequester 12-18% of the carbon dioxide released during fossil fuel burning in the US every year. All redwood forest plants contribute to this. Our RCCI scientists are learning more about how much carbon dioxide the redwood forest plants use & lose under different climatic conditions.

Notes on cover photo:
RCCI scientists study the impact of climate change on the redwood forest.

Plants on the Redwood Forest Floor

Redwood sorrel often covers the forest floor.
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants on the Redwood Forest Floor

Carpeting the coast redwood forest floor are the delicate redwood sorrel with its pink flowers and purple stems, and the sala with its leathery green leaves and blackish-purple summer fruit, as well as a multitude of ferns.

Notes on cover photo:
Redwood sorrel often covers the forest floor.

Redwood Forest Ferns in Winter

Coast Redwood Understory

Redwood Forest Ferns in Winter

Several species of the fern polypody send up new fronds with the first autumn rains. Polypody often grows on the tree trunks of winter deciduous trees, where they get more light during the winter since their tree hosts have dropped their leaves.

Notes on cover photo:
Light shines on a leather leaf up in the redwood canopy.

Redwood Snags in the Redwood Understory

Montgomery Woods State Park. Photo by Peter Buranzon
Coast Redwood Understory

Redwood Snags in the Redwood Understory

Ancient forests have many large, standing snags, or dead trees, as well as downed nurse logs that vary in size and are in different stages of decay. These snags and nurse logs provide food and homes for many plants and animals.

Notes on cover photo:
Montgomery Woods State Park. Photo by Peter Buranzon

Rhododendrons & Azaleas in the Redwood Understory

Coast Redwood Understory

Rhododendrons & Azaleas in the Redwood Understory

Rhododendrons and azaleas create a glorious burst of color on the coast redwood forest floor in May and June.

Shade-Loving Plants in the Redwood Forest

Lush ferns blanket the forest floor at Montgomery Woods. Photo by Peter Buranzon
Coast Redwood Understory

Shade-Loving Plants in the Redwood Forest

The plants and shrubs living on the forest floor must be able to thrive in deep shade, and ancient forests have many shade-loving plants.

Notes on cover photo:
Lush ferns blanket the forest floor at Montgomery Woods. Photo by Peter Buranzon

Western Bracken Fern in the Redwood Understory

Coast Redwood Understory

Western Bracken Fern in the Redwood Understory

Western bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum, meaning “eagle-like”) thrives in many ecosystems around the globe and is a resident of our coast redwood forest. A perennial plant, it survives over winter as a dormant root system. Bracken fern reproduces clonally through soil by expanding lateral rhizomes. Then, in the early spring, new fern fronds poke up into the sunlight as unfurling fiddleheads.

Notes on cover photo:
A fading bracken fern leaf glows white against the green leaves of sword fern at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Wildlife in Redwood Forests

Elk and other large mammals live among the redwoods.
Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife in Redwood Forests

Redwood forests also support a large number of animal species, including more than 200 different vertebrates. Frogs, salmon, toads, salamanders, snakes, lizards, marbled murrelets, sparrows, blackbirds, wood warblers, bats, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, weasels, bear, deer and elk all can be found among redwoods.

Notes on cover photo:
Elk and other large mammals live among the redwoods.

Wildlife of the Giant Sequoia Understory: Pikas

American Pika, Photo by Jon LeVasseur via Flickr: NPS Climate Change Response
Giant Sequoia Understory

Wildlife of the Giant Sequoia Understory: Pikas

Pikas live near giant sequoia forests in the Sierra Nevada. They don’t hibernate because their high metabolism helps keep them warm in the winter. During the summer, their metabolism puts pikas at risk of overheating.

Notes on cover photo:
Photo by Jon LeVasseur.

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Ants & Aphids

Ants tending aphids on the underside of young leaves of Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) in Del Norte County.
Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Ants & Aphids

Some animals in the redwood forest dine on a feast prepared by another species. Some ants tend flocks of aphids and dine on the sugary honeydew that aphids excrete after sucking sap from plants. These aphid-tending ants watch over their aphids, protecting the aphids from predators like ladybugs. Because of ant protection, aphid populations grow and ants receive a nearly constant supply of sugar. However, if the ants discover another sugary food source, they will actually begin to eat the aphids in order to increase their protein intake. In fact, some plants produce sugar in special glands call nectaries which encourage ants to consume the aphids that are sucking away the plant’s sugar.

Notes on cover photo:
Ants tending aphids on the underside of young leaves of Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) in Del Norte County.

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Banana Slugs

Banana slug.
Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Banana Slugs

The coast redwood forest is home to the largest slug in North America and the second largest slug worldwide. The banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus) grows up to 8 inches long and can live for 7 years. Banana slugs secrete slime to help them crawl, to deter hungry predators, and to keep from drying out. Banana slugs break down plant materials.

Notes on cover photo:
Banana slug.

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Black Bears

Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Black Bears

Primarily in May and June, black bears (Ursus americanus) sense the pulse of carbohydrates flowing down redwoods’ trunks. They strip the bark from redwoods that are 10-20 inches in diameter to eat the sugary cambium, the layer of living cells that produces wood.

Notes on cover photo:
By Wingchi Poon - Own work; along Big Trees Trail (near Giant Forest Museum), Sequoia National Park, California, USA., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Roosevelt Elk

A large Roosevelt Elk wanders through the Fern Watch plots at Prairie Creek.
Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Roosevelt Elk

Roosevelt elk live in the meadows of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Notes on cover photo:
A large Roosevelt Elk wanders through the Fern Watch plots at Prairie Creek.

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Rough-Skinned Newt

Garth Hodgson with Newt
Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Rough-Skinned Newt

The rough-skinned newt lives in water and on the coast redwood forest floor. Its skin secretes poison.

Notes on cover photo:
Researchers Garth Hodgson and Hartwell Welsh pay particular attention to tiny amphibians in their League-funded research study.

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Salmon

Juvenile coho salmon. Photo by Roger Tabor, USFWS
Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Salmon

Virtually all redwood forests have (or once had) streams inhabited by salmonids, or fish in the salmon family.

Notes on cover photo:
Juvenile coho salmon. Photo by Roger Tabor, USFWS

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Tailed Frog

Coast Redwood Understory

Wildlife of the Redwood Understory: Tailed Frog

Ancient redwood forests are home to the world’s most primitive frog, the tailed frog, which lives in cold, rocky streams.

Decomposing Redwoods in the Forest Understory

RCCI scientists mapping the forest floor. Photo by Anthony Ambrose
Coast Redwood Understory

Decomposing Redwoods in the Forest Understory

It can take many hundreds of years for a fallen redwood to fully decompose.

Notes on cover photo:
RCCI scientists mapping the forest floor. Photo by Anthony Ambrose

Did You Know This Salamander Rattles?

California Giant Salamander. Photo by William Leonard
Coast Redwood Understory

Did You Know This Salamander Rattles?

The California giant salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) is one of only two salamanders in the world that vocalize. This large spotted amphibian lives in the coast redwood forests of primarily Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties.

Notes on cover photo:
California Giant Salamander. Photo by William Leonard

Elk Clover

Elk Clover. Photo by Keir Morse
Coast Redwood Understory

Elk Clover

Meet a fascinating plant of redwood country: Elk clover, also known as California spikenard (Aralia californica), is the only member of the ginseng family that is native to California. It’s a perennial deciduous plant (meaning it sheds its leaves in the fall), and it has really large leaves about the size of a person’s hand. Read more on our Giant Thoughts blog.

Notes on cover photo:
Elk Clover. Photo by Keir Morse

Fire Clears Giant Sequoia Understory

Giant Sequoia Understory

Fire Clears Giant Sequoia Understory

New giant sequoia trees can only grow from seeds. Naturally occurring fires create openings in the forest, allowing young giant sequoias to grow. Fire suppression policies in recent years has increased the growth of a dense, brushy understory and reduced the likelihood of giant sequoia regeneration.

Fire in the Coast Redwood Understory

Fire is an example of a disturbance event that redwoods face.
Coast Redwood Understory

Fire in the Coast Redwood Understory

Frequent, naturally occurring fires play an important role in keeping coast redwood ecosystems healthy because they rid the forest floor of combustible materials. Decades of fire suppression practices usually result in the accumulation of dead plant material that may fuel intense, destructive fires.

Notes on cover photo:
Fire is an example of a disturbance event that redwoods face.

Petrified Redwoods

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Coast Redwood Understory

Petrified Redwoods

Did you know that many fossilized redwood ancestors exist throughout the Southwestern US? About 34 million years ago, a close relative of the coast redwood and giant sequoia flourished in what is now the high desert of central Colorado. In Florissant, CO, an extremely unique petrified trio of redwood trees was found – the only fossil of a redwood “fairy ring” or family circle ever discovered. These fossils offer a detailed glimpse back in time at a fascinating period in climatic change, when the climate shifted in this region from a warm, subtropical environment to a more temperate and cool climate.

Notes on cover photo:
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo by National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Fungi-Dependent Flowers among Coast Redwoods

Fungi catch the eye of a hiker in Peters Creek Old-Growth Forest. Photo by Paolo Vescia
Coast Redwood Understory

Fungi-Dependent Flowers among Coast Redwoods

Poking up through the debris on the Usal forest floor in Mendocino County are rare flowers called “mycotrophs,” named because they depend on fungi for food. Below ground, the roots of these flowering plants connect with mycorrhizal fungi and absorb sugars and nutrients from their fungal partners.

Notes on cover photo:
Fungi catch the eye of a hiker in Peters Creek Old-Growth Forest. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Growing Coast Redwoods

Coast Redwood Understory

Growing Coast Redwoods

Every year, tiny coast redwood seeds fall to the forest floor from cones produced at the redwood tree tops. Most seeds don’t survive, but occasionally there is enough moisture, room on the forest floor, and light for a seed to grow. If it keeps growing year after year, surviving being stomped by hiker’s boots, fires, storms, droughts and more, it just may become a part of the tall redwood canopy.

Insects and Animals of Giant Sequoia Understory

Chickaree (Douglas's Squirrel) Photo by Peter Pearsall/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Giant Sequoia Understory

Insects and Animals of Giant Sequoia Understory

Black bears live in redwood forests and gnaw on sugary redwood bark. Chickarees (a kind of squirrel) and long-horned beetle larvae help to spread sequoia seeds by eating the fleshy scales of the cones and freeing the seeds.

Notes on cover photo:
Peter Pearsall/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Interdependence in the Redwood Understory

Sitka Epiphytes.
Coast Redwood Understory

Interdependence in the Redwood Understory

The plants and animals in the redwood forest are interdependent in many ways. Scientists now understand that these complex interactions are crucial to the survival of the ancient redwood forest.

Notes on cover photo:
Sitka Epiphytes.

Mushrooms in the Redwood Understory

Turkey tail fungus and moss growing from deadfall. Photo by Patricia VanEyll
Coast Redwood Understory

Mushrooms in the Redwood Understory

Mushrooms appear with wet, wintery weather in the woods, including the redwood forest. Some species’ bright colors are warnings to animals that fungi make toxic chemicals for protection.

Notes on cover photo:
Turkey tail fungus and moss growing from deadfall. Photo by Patricia VanEyll

Native People Used Fallen Redwoods

By Scott D. Sullivan This image has been released for use worldwide under the licensing specified below. If you require different licensing (e.g., for commercial publishing), or a larger or higher quality version of this image, it may be available from the author. You can contact the author by clicking here and leaving a message. Further, if you use this image in any works of your own the author would appreciate an email. This is by no means required, but very much appreciated. :-) (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Coast Redwood Understory

Native People Used Fallen Redwoods

The native people of California did not usually cut down coast redwoods, but used fallen trees to make planks for houses and hollowed-out logs for canoes.

Notes on cover photo:
Yurok Plank House, Patrick's Point State Park. Photo by Scott D. Sullivan, Wikimedia Commons

Plants in the Coast Redwood Understory

Poison oak climbs over 40 ft. up douglas fir and redwood trees. Photo by Joanne and Doug Schwartz
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Coast Redwood Understory

Rhododendrons, dogwoods and ferns thrive underneath the trees, as do poison oak, huckleberry, hazel and many flowering herbs.

Notes on cover photo:
Poison oak climbs over 40 ft. up douglas fir and redwood trees. Photo by Joanne and Doug Schwartz

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Five-Finger Fern

Five-finger ferns cover canyon walls in Peters Creek Old-Growth Forest. Photo by Paolo Vescia
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Five-Finger Fern

The five-finger fern grows in shady, moist banks or rock crevices among the redwoods.

Notes on cover photo:
Five-finger ferns cover canyon walls in Peters Creek Old-Growth Forest. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Leopard Lily

Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Leopard Lily

The leopard lily, with its yellow, spotted, turned-back petals, blooms through July in the redwood forest.

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Liverwort

Lunularia cruciata. Photo by JonRichfield (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Liverwort

Lunularia cruciata is a liverwort, one of the world’s small plants. A relative of mosses, this plant hugs the ground as it grows horizontally on moist soil. This liverwort gets its name from the moon-shaped cups on the top of the plant (Lunularia for luna, or moon). These small cups (called gemmae), contain baby liverworts that get bounced out by raindrops and ricocheted to a new patch of ground to hopefully start growing.

Notes on cover photo:
Photo by JonRichfield

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Pitcher Plant

Darlingtonia Californica. Photo by Dave Berry, flickr.
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Pitcher Plant

The pitcher plant (Darlingtonia) is carnivorous and grows along the Smith River just north of Stout Grove of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Special leaves trap flying insects that are attracted to the scent produced by the plant. Once inside the pitcher, these insects are digested and the nutrients are absorbed by the plant. Pitcher and other carnivorous plants are found in areas where the soil has little nutrients.

Notes on cover photo:
Darlingtonia Californica. Photo by Dave Berry, flickr.

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Red Snow Plant

Giant Sequoia Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Red Snow Plant

This flashy, red pillar of springtime in the mountains is a mycotroph (one of those funky plants that does not do photosynthesis and so has no reason to be green). It feeds itself by drawing sugars from its pine tree neighbors through an elaborate network of fungi attached both to the snow plant and pine tree roots. Snow plants pop up at elevations between 4,000-8,000 feet in yellow pine, red fir, and lodgepole forests once the snow melts and they are a stunning symbol of spring and that cannot be missed!

Notes on cover photo:
Snow plant. Photo by Isolino, Flickr Creative Commons

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Redwood Sorrel

Redwood sorrel carpets the floor of Peters Creek Old-Growth Forest. Photo by Paolo Vescia
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Redwood Sorrel

Redwood sorrel often carpets the shady redwood forest floor.

Notes on cover photo:
Redwood sorrel carpets the floor of Peters Creek Old-Growth Forest. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Redwood Violets

Redwood violet (Viola sempervirens). Courtesy of Fran Wolfe
Coast Redwood Understory

Plants in the Redwood Understory: Redwood Violets

Redwood violets bloom from March through June in the moist redwood forest.

Notes on cover photo:
Redwood violet (Viola sempervirens). Courtesy of Fran Wolfe

Threats to Coast Redwoods

Coast Redwood Resources

Threats to Coast Redwoods

Fragmentation is one of the biggest threats to today’s remaining ancient redwood forest, which is mostly made up of isolated groves in parks or forestlands.

Notes on cover photo:
Headwaters Forest Reserve. Photo courtesy Humboldt State University

Who’s Behind the Name ‘Humboldt’?

Photo by Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Resources

Who’s Behind the Name ‘Humboldt’?

Much of the League’s redwood protection work has been done in Humboldt County, especially in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, in which we have secured more than 53,000 acres. The county and park are named after Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1869). Humboldt was a German explorer and naturalist who made major contributions to the study of how the environment works.

Notes on cover photo:
Photo by Humboldt State University

Why Coast Redwoods Need Protection

Mailliard Ranch. Photo by Paolo Vescia
Coast Redwood Resources

Why Coast Redwoods Need Protection

In California, thousands of acres of ancient coast redwood forest are on private land and could still be logged for lumber or to make room for development.

Explore more FAQs about redwoods.

Notes on cover photo:
Mailliard Ranch. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Argentine Ants and Redwoods

Coast Redwood Soil

Argentine Ants and Redwoods

Argentine ants have invaded every ecosystem in California except for the redwood forest. Often attracted to human food and shelter, these ants occupy easily many habitats apart from redwoods. It turns out that these ants can’t tolerate the chemicals produced in redwoods leaves called terpenes.

Giant Sequoia Soil

Our recent purchase of land helps protect the surrounding Giant Sequoia National Monument (pictured), home of some of the Earth's largest trees.
Giant Sequoia Soil

Giant Sequoia Soil

Because giant sequoias need well-drained soil, compacting the soil by walking around their shallow roots can seriously damage giant sequoias.

Notes on cover photo:
Our recent purchase of land helps protect the surrounding Giant Sequoia National Monument (pictured), home of some of the Earth's largest trees.

Redwood Seed Germination

Coast Redwood Soil

Redwood Seed Germination

Redwood seeds sprout on a variety of surfaces, ranging from bare soil and leaf litter to rocky ledges. The seeds germinate within a few days or weeks of being shed if the right combination of temperature and moisture are present.

Notes on cover photo:
Headwaters seedling

Sediment in the Eel River

Fall foliage along the Eel River. Photo by mlhradio, Flickr Creative Commons
Coast Redwood Soil

Sediment in the Eel River

With autumn rains in redwood country, leaves fall into Mendocino County’s Eel River and decompose, releasing carbon, which stains the water dark brown. With more rain, runoff into the river brings sediment from the land. The river turns brilliant blue once sediment flows out of the river or settles to the river bottom. This color occurs because short-wave blue light is scattered, not absorbed like longer wavelengths, by the remaining particulates in the river.

Notes on cover photo:
Fall foliage along the Eel River. Photo by mlhradio, Flickr Creative Commons

Sprouting Coast Redwoods

Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Photo by Milton Taam (IMG_0164) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Coast Redwood Soil

Sprouting Coast Redwoods

Young coast redwoods can sprout from the base of the parent tree, taking advantage of the energy and nutrient reserves contained within the established, shallow root system.

Notes on cover photo:
Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Photo by Milton Taam (IMG_0164) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Storing Carbon in Redwood Forest Soil

RCCI scientists mapping the forest floor. Photo by Anthony Ambrose
Coast Redwood Soil

Storing Carbon in Redwood Forest Soil

Redwood forests store more carbon per hectare (2.2 acres) than any other forest on Earth. Redwoods store carbon in their trunks. Underground, forest soils and root structures store even more carbon.

Notes on cover photo:
RCCI scientists mapping the forest floor. Photo by Anthony Ambrose

Water Movement in Redwoods

Westfall Ranch buffers the pictured Headwaters Forest Reserve, home to a 3,000-acre ancient redwood forest that inspired a long fight for its protection from logging in the 1990s. Photo by Mike Shoys.
Coast Redwood Soil

Water Movement in Redwoods

Water simply moves passively within plants, from wet parts to dry parts. When the soil is wet and the plant needs water to grow, water seeps into plant roots and makes its way by diffusion to dry parts of the plant. But sometimes trees with deep roots absorb water from wet soil deep below ground and this water never makes it up into the tree trunk. If the shallow roots of the tree are laying in dry soil during summer, the water absorbed at depth will leak out of the shallow roots into the surface soil layer that the tree’s neighboring plants are rooted in instead of moving on up into the tree. Scientists call this hydraulic redistribution, or hydraulic lift. Hydraulic lift is one way that plants help each other out in a shared habitat.

Notes on cover photo:
Westfall Ranch buffers the pictured Headwaters Forest Reserve, home to a 3,000-acre ancient redwood forest that inspired a long fight for its protection from logging in the 1990s. Photo by Mike Shoys.

Water Movement in Trees

Canopy view of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Soil

Water Movement in Trees

Unlike animals that have an active circulatory system that pumps blood around the body, in plants such as redwoods, water simply moves passively from wet parts to dry parts. When the soil is wet and the plant needs water to grow, water seeps into plant roots and makes its way to dry parts of the plant.

Notes on cover photo:
Canopy view of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Coast Redwoods & Streams

The Coastal Trail, Last Chance section, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Photo by David Baselt
Coast Redwood Understory

Coast Redwoods & Streams

In late summer and fall, redwood growth slows and some trees need less water. This causes water level rise in some small coastal streams because large redwoods nearly stop drawing water from the soil.

Notes on cover photo:
The Coastal Trail, Last Chance section, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Photo by David Baselt

Coral Fungus in the Redwood Understory

Coast Redwood Understory

Coral Fungus in the Redwood Understory

Winter rains cause fungi to reproduce in the redwood forest. Coral fungus emerges from the redwood forest floor after rains and displays white, yellow, orange and red mushrooms. It grows quickly because it gets sugar energy directly from the trees in the forest.

Scientists Predict Significant Reduction in Sierra Snowpack

Giant Sequoia Climate

Scientists Predict Significant Reduction in Sierra Snowpack

As climate changes, we may see large shifts in the snowpack each winter. Researchers studying when snow begins to melt in the Sierra have observed that peak snowmelt is occurring 0.6 days earlier every decade in California, according to the study by Sarah Kapnick and Alex Hall, “Observed Climate-Snowpack Relationships in California and Their Implications for the Future,” published in the December 11, 2009, Journal of Climate.

This means that snow begins supplying water to the streams and river systems earlier than before and drains the Sierra of water earlier in the season. So far, this acceleration has only sped up snowmelt by a few days over the past century, but temperatures are predicted to increase in California by 2-7°C by the year 2100, according to the study by Katharine Hayhoe and colleagues, “Emissions Pathways, Climate Change, and Impacts on California,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004. This extreme warming is projected to cause earlier snowmelt by 6-21 days, according to Kapnick, and reduce the total snowpack by 30% at best and up to 90% at worst this century, according to Hayhoe.

The scientists of the Save the Redwoods League Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative are working to gain the critical data necessary to develop strategies for helping redwoods adapt to such rapid environmental changes. Possible ways the Initiative findings could help redwoods survive in the future include protecting cooler and moister habitats so the trees will have a place to grow if their current range becomes too warm or dry.

Notes on cover photo:
Nearly snowless giant sequoias at Sequoia National Park in March.

Ancient Coast Redwood Stands

Big Basin
Coast Redwood Resources

Ancient Coast Redwood Stands

The largest surviving stands of ancient coast redwoods are in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Redwood National and State Parks, and Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Learn more about coast redwoods with these resources:

Notes on cover photo:
Photo by Peter Buranzon

California State Trees

Coast Redwood Resources

California State Trees

California has two state trees: the coast redwood and the giant sequoia. On April 3, 1937, a senate bill named “the California redwood” as the state’s official tree. In 1953, the original law was amended to officially recognize both the coast redwood and the giant sequoia as the state trees.

Coast Redwood Genetics

Genetic profiles of specific coast redwood strains mean some trees could demonstrate greater resilience in certain types of climatic conditions than others. Photo by Paolo Vescia
Coast Redwood Resources

Coast Redwood Genetics

The coast redwoods in their southern range differ genetically from those in the trees’ northern range. Research studies show that the Sonoma-Mendocino County border separates two populations of redwoods, one population that extends south to Big Sur and one that extends north to the Oregon border.

Notes on cover photo:
Genetic profiles of specific coast redwood strains mean some trees could demonstrate greater resilience in certain types of climatic conditions than others. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Coast Redwood Logging

Redwood logging like this in Scotia, Calif., around 1918, spurred the establishment of Save the Redwoods League. Photo by H.C. Tibbits
Coast Redwood Resources

Coast Redwood Logging

When gold was discovered in 1849, hundreds of thousands of people came to California, and redwoods were logged extensively to satisfy their housing needs. By the 1960s, only a small fraction of the original 2 million acres of ancient coast redwood forest remained.

Notes on cover photo:
Redwood logging like this in Scotia, Calif., around 1918, spurred the establishment of Save the Redwoods League. Photo by H.C. Tibbits

Development Threatens Giant Sequoias

Giant Sequoia Resources

Development Threatens Giant Sequoias

While mature giant sequoia trees themselves are too brittle to produce useful lumber, real-estate development near the groves threatens the ecosystem on which they depend.

As houses and towns are built closer to giant sequoia groves, the amount of water available to the trees often significantly decreases. In addition, smog from nearby cities can harm the ecosystems in which giant sequoias live.

Learn more about the threats to the redwoods.

Giant Sequoia Groves

Giant sequoia stand in Giant Sequoia National Monument
Giant Sequoia Resources

Giant Sequoia Groves

Some of the largest surviving giant sequoia groves may be seen in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Giant Sequoia National Monument, Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Yosemite National Park. The northernmost grove of giant sequoia, containing only six trees, lies near the middle fork of the American River in Tahoe National Forest.

Giant Sequoia Resources

Giant Sequoia Resources

Giant Sequoia Resources

The first botanical name for the giant sequoia was bestowed in Britain. It was called Wellingtonia gigantea after the Duke of Wellington. Americans retaliated with the name Washingtonia gigantea, but that name had already been given to a genus of palms. Botanists settled the matter, giving the giant sequoia its own genus, Sequoiadendron giganteum.

Learn more about giant sequoias with these resources:

Naming the Redwoods

Coast Redwood Resources

Naming the Redwoods

Redwoods get their common name from their bark and heartwood, the reddish-brown color of which stems from high tannin levels.

Personifying Giant Sequoias

The_mammoth_trees_(Sequoia_gigantea),_California_(Calaveras_County)_executed_in_oil_colors_by_Middleton,_Strobridge_&_Co.,_Cin._O._03140u
Giant Sequoia Resources

Personifying Giant Sequoias

Most of the first efforts to save redwoods were directed towards giant sequoias, which had become known as individuals — the Discovery Tree, the Mother of the Forest, and others. By contrast, the coast redwood forest seemed so huge, dark, and forbidding that few people thought of protecting it.

Notes on cover photo:
The mammoth trees (Sequoia gigantea), California (Calaveras County) / executed in oil colors by Middleton, Strobridge & Co., Cin. O.

Redwood Chromosomes

Coast Redwood Resources

Redwood Chromosomes

Redwoods have more chromosomes than most other cone-bearing trees, a fact that also may help them grow tall. Chromosomes are the part of the cell that carries genes. Conifers usually have 20 to 24 chromosomes, but redwoods have 66 or more. That is because redwoods have six copies of each chromosome, while most conifers have two copies of each.

Notes on cover photo:
A coast redwood stands tall in the forest at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Photo by Mario Vaden.

Redwood History

Visitors to Muir Woods can see the dates of redwood tree rings.Visitors to Muir Woods can see the dates of redwood tree rings.
Coast Redwood Resources

Redwood History

Redwood forests as we know them today have been present in California for about 20 million years. Ancestral redwoods once grew throughout the northern hemisphere.

Learn more about coast redwoods with these resources:

Notes on cover photo:
Visitors to Muir Woods can see the dates of redwood tree rings.Visitors to Muir Woods can see the dates of redwood tree rings.

Redwoods and John Muir

Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods National Monument. Photo credit: Tonatiuh Trejo-Cantwell
Giant Sequoia Resources

Redwoods and John Muir

“There is something wonderfully attractive in this king tree, even when beheld from afar, that draws us to it with indescribable enthusiasm; its superior height and massive smoothly rounded outlines proclaiming its character in any company; and when one of the oldest attains full stature on some commanding ridge it seems the very god of the woods.” -John Muir

Notes on cover photo:
Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods National Monument. Photo credit: Tonatiuh Trejo-Cantwell

Surprise Benefit of the US Northwest Forest Plan

Setting up RCCI sensors. Photo by Stephen Sillett
Coast Redwood Resources

Surprise Benefit of the US Northwest Forest Plan

Since 1993, the US Northwest Forest Plan has reduced forest harvesting on public lands by 82%. Originally intended to save habitat for endangered species such as the northern spotted owl, this plan had unexpected consequences. In a new study, researchers from Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest Research Station show that this conservation action had the unanticipated benefit of greatly increasing carbon sequestration throughout the mixed coniferous forests of Washington, Oregon and California. Restricting timber harvesting in public forests helped reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a critical step toward reducing global warming.

Notes on cover photo:
Setting up RCCI sensors. Photo by Stephen Sillett

The Big Tree

Giant sequoia forest photo by Tom Hilton, Flickr Creative Commons
Giant Sequoia Resources

The Big Tree

The giant sequoia is known as the Big Tree or sometimes called Sierra redwoods.

Learn more about giant sequoias with these resources:

Notes on cover photo:
Giant sequoia forest photo by Tom Hilton, Flickr Creative Commons

The Last Stands of Giant Sequoias

Giant sequoia stand in Giant Sequoia National Monument
Giant Sequoia Resources

The Last Stands of Giant Sequoias

The Earth’s last giant sequoias total fewer than 48,000 acres distributed in 77 scattered groves along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. More than 90 percent of giant sequoia acreage is in public ownership.

Learn more about giant sequoias with these resources:

The Tall Tree

Coast redwoods grow naturally today only in a narrow 450-mile strip along the Pacific coast from central California to southern Oregon. Photo by Jon Parmentier
Coast Redwood Resources

The Tall Tree

The coast redwood is often called the Tall Tree.

Learn more about coast redwoods with these resources:

Notes on cover photo:
Coast redwoods grow naturally today only in a narrow 450-mile strip along the Pacific coast from central California to southern Oregon. Photo by Jon Parmentier

California Bay Laurel

Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

California Bay Laurel

The California bay laurel is native to the redwoods region. This tree can be found in mixed hardwood forests as well as in the understory of coniferous and redwood forests. It has a very symmetrical shape to its crown, and is densely leafed with long, oval-shaped leaves. The fruit somewhat resembles olives, but is not very edible. Historically, European settlers and Native Americans both used the leaves from this tree for treating headaches and rheumatism. Native Americans also used the root bark to make a healing tea, and used the leaves for insect repellent. During the Great Depression, the town of North Bend, Oregon, even used this tree to mint their own currency!

Notes on cover photo:
By Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Changing Colors in the Redwood Forest Canopy

Giant redwood crowns loom over a canopy of shorter trees such as Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Changing Colors in the Redwood Forest Canopy

Many other tree species can live among the coast redwoods, including Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, grand firs, Sitka spruces, tanoaks, madrones, maples and California bays.

Notes on cover photo:
Giant redwood crowns loom over a canopy of shorter trees such as Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Effects of Fire on Giant Sequoias

Photo by yourmap, Flickr Creative Commons
Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

Effects of Fire on Giant Sequoias

After losing as much as 95 percent of their foliage from fire, giant sequoias can continue to live and grow for centuries.

Notes on cover photo:
Photo by yourmap, Flickr Creative Commons

Fire Resistant Redwood Bark

Fire-suppressed sequoia grove – note the large fire scar on the giant sequoia on the right.
Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

Fire Resistant Redwood Bark

Redwood bark resists fire because it contains only traces of resins and volatile oils. The bark holds large quantities of water, which protects them from periodic, naturally occurring fires. It is also thick, so even if part of the bark burns, the tree is most often still protected.

Notes on cover photo:
Fire-suppressed sequoia grove – note the large fire scar on the giant sequoia on the right.

General Sherman Tree

Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

General Sherman Tree

Sequoia National Park‘s General Sherman Tree, a giant sequoia, is about 52,500 cubic feet, roughly equivalent to 21,800 150-pound humans!

Giant Sequoia Forests

Giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite.
Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

Giant Sequoia Forests

The Sierra forests are less dense than the coastal redwood forests, and giant sequoias with their bright red bark can be seen from a great distance.

Notes on cover photo:
Giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite.

Growth Rings & Coast Redwood Age

In April 2016, the League installed an interpretive panel explaining redwood forest plants, animals and tree rings and welcoming visitors to the Pfeiffer Falls Trail.
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Growth Rings & Coast Redwood Age

The oldest known coast redwood tree was 2,200 years old. Counting growth rings in the trunk can indicate the age of a tree.

Notes on cover photo:
In April 2016, the League installed an interpretive panel explaining redwood forest plants, animals and tree rings and welcoming visitors to the Pfeiffer Falls Trail.

Growth Rings & Giant Sequoia Age

Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

Growth Rings & Giant Sequoia Age

Scientists believe that many of the largest living giant sequoias are between 2,000 and 3,000 years old; the oldest recorded specimen exceeded 3,500 years. Counting growth rings in the trunk can indicate the age of a tree.

How Coast Redwoods Grow

Trees in old‐growth redwood forests become highly individualized with age. In this view across the upper canopy each tree’s crown has a distinctive shape. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

How Coast Redwoods Grow

Trees only grow taller at the top. At the base of the tree, the only growth is out. As the tree makes more wood, the bark gets pushed out and the oldest bark flakes off.

Notes on cover photo:
Trees in old‐growth redwood forests become highly individualized with age. In this view across the upper canopy each tree’s crown has a distinctive shape. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Lichen on Coast Redwood Bark

Lush ferns blanket the forest floor at Montgomery Woods. Photo by Peter Buranzon
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Lichen on Coast Redwood Bark

The most common lichen on coast redwood bark is Leproloma membranacea, which makes the lower parts of the tree turn green in color.

Notes on cover photo:
Lush ferns blanket the forest floor at Montgomery Woods. Photo by Peter Buranzon

Massive Giants

Giant sequoias are some of the world's largest trees.
Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

Massive Giants

California’s giant sequoia is the world’s most massive tree and one of the oldest. Giant sequoias have trunks up to 30 feet around near the ground and grow up to 310 feet tall.

Notes on cover photo:
Giant sequoias are some of the world's largest trees.

Redwood Defenses

Grove of the Old Trees. Photo by Save the Redwoods League
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Redwood Defenses

Chemicals found in the leaves, branches and bark of redwoods give these trees a remarkable resistance to fungal disease and insect infestation.

Notes on cover photo:
Grove of the Old Trees. Photo by Save the Redwoods League

Redwood Forest Biomass

In the rain forest of Jedediah Smith, single redwood treetops (called crowns) can be incredibly dense with many trunks, many branches, and leaves.
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Redwood Forest Biomass

Ancient coast redwood forests contain the highest standing biomass (total of all above-ground organic matter) of any forest on Earth, and therefore store incredible amounts of carbon in tree trunks and forest soil.

Notes on cover photo:
In the rain forest of Jedediah Smith, single redwood treetops (called crowns) can be incredibly dense with many trunks, many branches, and leaves. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Redwood Forest Ecosystem

Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Redwood Forest Ecosystem

More than just tall trees, a redwood forest is a complex ecosystem made up of an astounding variety of living and once-living things.

Redwood Trunks Help Resist Fire

Fire is an example of a disturbance event that redwoods face.
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Redwood Trunks Help Resist Fire

The coast redwood’s tall trunk has no branches or leaves near the base of the tree, making fire unlikely to spread to the tree top. If a fire does burn the tree, it can sprout a new trunk from the base.

Notes on cover photo:
Fire is an example of a disturbance event that redwoods face.

Shaping Unique Coast Redwood Trees

Shady Dell. Photo by Paolo Vescia
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Shaping Unique Coast Redwood Trees

Strong coastal winds are believed to have shaped the unusual trees at our Shady Dell property. Wind breaks off branches and makes plants lose water fast from their leaves. If wind blows consistently from the same direction, it will shape trees.

Notes on cover photo:
Shady Dell. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Stellar’s Jays

Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Stellar’s Jays

Stellar’s jays live among redwoods, often scavenging near people.

Notes on cover photo:
Research Elena West, explains how the juvenile Steller's jay (left) has grayer feathers relative to the adult jay (right).

Terpenes

Giant redwood crowns loom over a canopy of shorter trees such as Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Terpenes

Did you know that organic chemicals released by coniferous trees can influence climate? These chemicals, called terpenes, give coniferous trees their distinctive, and often pungent, fragrance. Studies show that they also have effects upon the climate as well. Terpenes react with molecules in the air to form aerosols. As the aerosol gas molecules rise through the atmosphere, they interact with water vapor and help the vapor condense into clouds above forests. The formation of these clouds causes sunlight to be reflected away from the earth’s surface and lowering temperatures.

Notes on cover photo:
Giant redwood crowns loom over a canopy of shorter trees such as Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Trees in the Giant Sequoia Ecosystem

Sugar pine
Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

Trees in the Giant Sequoia Ecosystem

The giant sequoia ecosystem includes other trees such as sugar pines, ponderosa pines, and incense cedars as well as wildflowers and other plants living in the shade of the big trees.

Notes on cover photo:
Photo Credit: Laura Camp, Flickr Creative Commons

Types of Redwood Wood

Mist rising off wet tree as it is warmed by the sun. Photo by Patricia VanEyll
Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Types of Redwood Wood

Heartwood at the center of trees, including redwoods, is primarily used for storage. Only the newest wood (called “sapwood“) near the outside of the tree is used to transport water up to the treetops.

Notes on cover photo:
Mist rising off wet tree as it is warmed by the sun. Photo by Patricia VanEyll

Capturing Fog

View of the coast redwood canopy. Photo by Stephen Sillett
Coast Redwood Climate

Capturing Fog

Redwoods create their own “rain” by capturing fog on their lofty branches, contributing moisture to the forest in the driest time of year.

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View of the coast redwood canopy. Photo by Stephen Sillett

Changing Fires Impact on Redwoods

Coast Redwood Climate

Changing Fires Impact on Redwoods

Scientists recently took a look back at the history of fire in pine forests of the Southwestern US and discovered that the devastating megafires of recent decades are unprecedented. By searching for fire scars etched into the wood of ancient trees, they discovered that historic fires burned more frequently and were less intense. Today, fires burn hotter, spread more easily, and scorch the canopy which kills trees. These super fires devastate the landscape more than historic fires because the forest structure is now different after two centuries of logging, grazing, and other human activities including fire suppression. Young forests today are often overcrowded with trees and this allows flames to leap skyward into the treetops and spread quickly over the landscape.

Notes on cover photo:
Prescribed burns help lower the risk of catastrophic fires.

Changing Sierra Snowpack

Giant Sequoia Climate

Changing Sierra Snowpack

Today, the Sierra snowpack is at near-record levels above the historic normal range. This is good news for giant sequoias that depend on snowmelt for water. But scientists predict the changing climate will reduce the snowpack significantly. Learn about predicted reductions in the Sierra snowpack.

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Photo by Jim's_outside_photos, Flickr Creative Commons

Climate Changes and the Migration of Giant Sequoias

Our Redwood Watch map shows the coast redwood range in orange and giant sequoia range in red. You can help scientists research the effects of climate change on redwood forests by taking photos that will be placed on this map. Map by iNaturalist
Giant Sequoia Climate

Climate Changes and the Migration of Giant Sequoias

About 20 million years ago, the giant sequoia’s direct ancestors lived in what is now southern Idaho and western Nevada. As the Earth’s plates moved and the Sierra Nevada slowly rose, the climate east of the mountains gradually became much drier and hotter in summer and colder in winter. Sequoias, which prefer more moderate conditions, migrated westward to where California is now.

Notes on cover photo:
Our Redwood Watch map shows the coast redwood range in orange and giant sequoia range in red. You can help scientists research the effects of climate change on redwood forests by taking photos that will be placed on this map. Map by iNaturalist

Climate Helped Define the Coast Redwood Range

Coastal Redwoods Map
Coast Redwood Climate

Climate Helped Define the Coast Redwood Range

About a million years ago, advancing ice sheets confined the coast redwoods to their modern range. The glaciers left untouched a well-defined area, now known as the redwood belt, where tall trees flourished undisturbed. Coast redwoods grow naturally today only in a narrow 450-mile strip along the Pacific coast from central California to southern Oregon.

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Coastal Redwoods Map

Climate Helped Define the Giant Sequoia Range

A League-funded project by Robert York and William Stewart of the University of California will contribute to the basic understanding of how giant sequoia forests like this one respond to disturbances such as fire. Photo by iriskh, Flickr Creative Commons
Giant Sequoia Climate

Climate Helped Define the Giant Sequoia Range

About a million years ago, glaciation restricted the giant sequoia to the middle elevation ridges of the Sierra Nevada. Now, giant sequoias grow naturally only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

Coast Redwood Climate

Coast Redwood Climate

Coast Redwood Climate

Heavy winter rains and dense summer fog in the “redwood belt” provide coast redwoods with much-needed water during the otherwise drought-prone summers.

Notes on cover photo:
Fog flowing into Del Norte Redwoods State Park.

Coast Redwoods & Climate Change

Researchers of the Save the Redwoods League Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative study redwoods to determine how climate change will affect their future. Photo by Stephen C. Sillett
Coast Redwood Climate

Coast Redwoods & Climate Change

The League knows that past climate change was a serious danger to coast redwoods. Many scientists are concerned that rising temperatures and changing weather patterns will reduce the coastal fog on which redwoods depend and may further limit the range of redwood forests.

Notes on cover photo:
Researchers of the Save the Redwoods League Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative study redwoods to determine how climate change will affect their future. Photo by Stephen C. Sillett

Conditions for Thriving Redwoods

Coast Redwood Climate

Conditions for Thriving Redwoods

Trees continue to grow as long as they live – and coast redwoods can live more than 2,000 years. In addition, these trees live where the soil is very rich in nutrients, where they are protected from winds and where they receive lots of winter rain and summer fog. These conditions allow them to thrive and grow to great heights.

Notes on cover photo:
Photo caption: Coast redwoods, surrounded by fog, grow tall in Redwood National Park. Photo by Paolo Vescia.

Fire Frequency and Drought in the Giant Sequoias

Coast Redwood Climate

Fire Frequency and Drought in the Giant Sequoias

Thomas Swetnam and colleagues did an analysis at Giant Forest, a magnificent giant sequoia ecosystem in Sequoia National Park, in 2009. They counted and dated fire scars in 52 giant sequoia trees and measured charcoal deposits in local meadows They found that fire frequency was highest between 800-1300 C.E. (Common Era), a warm dry period of recent climate history known as the Medieval Warm Period. High air temperature and low water availability during this historical drought may reveal what may happen again with intensified drought due to contemporary climate change. Climate change will require more careful land management if the fire frequency does in fact increase this century.

Notes on cover photo:
Fire scars are visible on these coast redwoods in Big Basin State Park. By Peter L. Buranzon

Giant Sequoia Climate

Giant sequoia branches covered in snow. Photo by garden beth, Flickr Creative Commons
Giant Sequoia Climate

Giant Sequoia Climate

Sequoias are sensitive to temperature and cannot live if it gets too hot or too cold. In the 260-mile stretch of the Sierra Nevada that lies between 5,000 feet and 7,000 feet in elevation, there is generally enough snowfall to provide the moisture the giant sequoias need, without being too warm or cold.

Notes on cover photo:
Giant sequoia branches covered in snow. Photo by garden beth, Flickr Creative Commons

Giant Sequoias & Climate Change

Snowshoeing in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Photo by Patrn, Flickr Creative Commons
Giant Sequoia Climate

Giant Sequoias & Climate Change

The League knows that past climate change was a serious danger to giant sequoias. Many scientists are concerned that rising temperatures and changing weather patterns will reduce the annual snowpack on which sequoias depend. The changes also may cause the Sierra snowpack to melt earlier in the spring, lengthening the dry season.

Notes on cover photo:
Snowshoeing in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Photo by Patrn, Flickr Creative Commons

Giant Sequoias & Snow

A typical giant sequoia grove.
Giant Sequoia Climate

Giant Sequoias & Snow

To thrive, giant sequoias require thousands of gallons of water each day. They benefit from the Sierra snowpack that accumulates over the winter months and get some of the water they need from snowmelt that soaks into the ground.

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A typical giant sequoia grove.

How Redwoods Use Fog

Fog in the redwood canopy. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Climate

How Redwoods Use Fog

Redwoods use fog in many ways. First, trees need less water in the soil when it is foggy because they lose less water from their leaves. Second, the trees absorb the fog directly through their leaves, which is an especially important source of water during the dry, rainless summer. Finally, the condensed fog drips to the ground below the trees, where it soaks into the soil for later use.

Notes on cover photo:
Fog in the redwood canopy. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Impacts on Climate in the Coast Redwood Forest

Coast Redwood Climate

Impacts on Climate in the Coast Redwood Forest

How we use land surrounding the redwood ecosystem impacts the climate of redwood forests. Logging and poorly planned development can threaten nearby redwood forest areas. These threats may cause erosion, increased air temperatures and other environmental problems that can damage the ancient trees and other forest inhabitants.

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Our outdoor office view when tracking climate change impacts on coast redwood forest ferns for Fern Watch.

Redwood Belt Climate

Weather changes quickly in the redwood forest, often alternating between sun and thick fog. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University
Coast Redwood Climate

Redwood Belt Climate

In the “redwood belt” temperatures are moderate year-round. The climate is Mediterranean with cold, wet winters and warm, dry summers.

Notes on cover photo:
Weather changes quickly in the redwood forest, often alternating between sun and thick fog. Photo by Stephen Sillett, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Redwood Genetics & Climate Change

RCCI scientists study the impact of climate change on the redwood forest.
Coast Redwood Climate

Redwood Genetics & Climate Change

The redwood genome is complex. Humans have only 2 sets of chromosomes in our genome, but the coast redwood actually has 6 sets of chromosomes. This makes it more difficult to compare the genomes of different redwoods and study relatedness among trees, but new methods are helping scientists crack the redwood genetic mystery.

Why does this matter? If there were few genetic differences among the redwood trees in the whole ecosystem, climate change or disease would likely impact all the trees in the same way. Since there are two populations, each population will likely respond to the future differently. Our Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative science team is studying the physiology and growth of the trees in both populations, stay tuned!

Notes on cover photo:
RCCI scientists study the impact of climate change on the redwood forest.

Bats Living in the Coast Redwood Forest

Coast Redwood Mid-Canopy

Bats Living in the Coast Redwood Forest

Some of the bats living in the coast redwood forest can be found among the redwoods all year long. One such species is Yuma myotis (scientific name Myotis yumanensis). It eats insects when they are plentiful in the forest during the spring and summer, and it hibernates during winter when insect food is less plentiful.

Notes on cover photo:
By Daniel Neal from Sacramento, CA, US (Myotis yumanensis (Yuma myotis)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Benefits of Woodpeckers in the Forest Canopy

Acorn woodpecker. Photo by Walt Koenig
Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

Benefits of Woodpeckers in the Forest Canopy

Many species of forest birds worldwide need holes in trees for shelter and nesting. Woodpeckers help other birds survive by pecking cavities in which they can nest. Amazingly, up to 77% of tree cavities used by birds for nesting in many parts of North America are made by woodpeckers!

Notes on cover photo:
Acorn woodpecker. Photo by Walt Koenig

Bennett Juniper

Bennett Juniper is quite large! Our property caretaker is standing to the right of the tree.
Giant Sequoia Mid-Canopy

Bennett Juniper

One of the League’s held properties is the site of a single spectacular tree. The Bennett Tree, a western juniper tree (Juniperus occidentalis var. australis), is possibly the oldest documented living tree. Scientists have estimated its age from growth rings, measuring its age somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 years old. Additionally, this individual is also the largest known juniper tree in the world, standing at 86 feet tall with an average diameter of 13 feet. At breast height, the tree measures 40 feet around!

Notes on cover photo:
Bennett Juniper is quite large! Our property caretaker is standing to the right of the tree.

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