All in the Family: Redwood Relatives
Learn about the many species that make up the Cupressaceae family of trees
If you’re a fan of redwoods, then you’re probably already aware that coast redwoods and giant sequoias are closely related plants. They are both members of the cypress, or Cupressaceae (pronounced: koo-press-AY-see-ee) family of trees.
What you may not know, however, is that the “family tree” of these famous giants is far more extended than just these two species. In fact, if coast redwoods and giant sequoias threw a family reunion, they’d have numerous relations from near and far join the party, including cousins from the southern United States and Mexico, as well as Chile, Italy, China and Vietnam! They’d find that their family is also full of beautiful and unique high-achievers—the tallest trees in the world and the largest trees by volume, in California, as well as one of the world’s oldest tree species, in Chile, and one of the stoutest, in Mexico.
Far-flung and Far Out!
Found on every continent except Antarctica, these impressive “redwood relatives” leave visitors in awe of their splendor. These trees thrive in all sorts of environments from the arctic in Norway to the southernmost areas of Chile, and from 17,000 feet (5,200 m) in the mountains of Tibet all the way down to sea level. Yet, while they can grow in a variety of temperate zones, each species has adapted to survive in very specific environmental conditions. For instance, coast redwoods hug the California coast using fog as a water source. Across the Pacific, the golden Vietnamese cypress grows on jagged ridges and summits in the cloud forests of Vietnam, while the bald cypress dominates swampy lowlands in the southeastern United States.
The earliest specimens of these trees first appeared on the planet more than 200 million years ago, during the Mesozoic Era. This was the time of Pangaea, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and seed-producing plants known as “gymnosperms” flourished. Though ice ages of the past 2 million years greatly affected the distribution of these tree species, redwood relatives still occupy many habitats around the world. Many of the remaining living examples today are considered relic species, including the coast redwood, giant sequoia, dawn redwood and alerce. They are the sole surviving representatives of ancient groups of plants that used to be far more widely distributed across the globe.
Interactive Map of Redwood Relatives
Use the map below to learn more about the tree species that make up the cypress family.
Saving the Extended Redwood Family
From these examples it’s clear that redwood relatives break records, drive economies and strengthen the biodiversity of the planet. With many of them threatened or endangered, these species must also be protected and studied. There are still many remote, hard-to-access forests in the world where these trees may be hiding; populations of the coffin tree and the golden Vietnamese cypress were just recently discovered! Many of these species are globally threatened due to habitat destruction for development and overharvesting, similar to the history of the coast redwood.
Continued conservation work to protect these species—like the kind Save the Redwoods League conducts on behalf of coast redwoods and giant sequoias—depends on close partnerships among scientists, property owners, land managers, policy makers, industries and conservation organizations. Supporting the science and research devoted to these trees and the threats against them will bring about deeper understanding of what needs to be done to maintain the beauty and diversity of these remarkable living beings.