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Redwoods Facts and History

Top 10 Facts That Make Redwood Trees Magnificent

Coast redwoods are truly magnificent trees that provide clean air, are home to countless plants and wildlife, and can inspire awe for generations to come—but we must protect the remaining redwood forests before it’s too late. Here are some of the most awesome facts about magnificent redwood trees.

Climb a Coast Redwood

Scroll down to journey through a coast redwood tree and see some of the coolest things happening in each of its stories or read on for our Top 10 Facts about magnificent redwoods.

Redwood Story:Scroll DownCrownCanopyBranchesTrunkBarkRootsScroll Up

tree height

Redwoods are the tallest trees on earth reaching more than 350 feet high.

tree wildlife

Endangered marbled murrelets lay their eggs on the upper branches of redwoods.

tree salamander

Creatures like the wandering salamander can live their entire life in a redwood canopy.

tree berries

Redwoods can be so big and old that other trees and plants live on their branches and trunks.

tree water

A redwood’s leaves can both “drink” from fog and help make it rain.

tree leaves

Redwood leaves clean air by pulling in carbon and storing more of it than any other tree.

tree trunk

Redwoods are resistant to rot and fire, so all but 5% of old-growths were cut down for lumber.

tree owl

Fire can burn a cave-like hole in a living redwood where owls and bats like to live.

tree bark

The bark can be up to a foot thick and full of tannins that protect it from bugs, rot, and fire so it can live for thousands of years.

tree fossils

Redwoods have survived for millions of years with some fossils dating back to the Jurassic age of dinosaurs.

tree roots

Redwoods intertwine their roots with each other to stabilize one another and share nutrients.

tree salmon

Redwood roots help provide clean water and habitat for endangered coho salmon to lay their eggs.

Top 10 Facts About Redwood Trees

5. They Make Rain

Redwoods can make it rain. Redwood trees prefer a moist environment to get all of the water they need for their gigantic size. They have adapted to help form their own habitat. A redwood’s leaves can both absorb moisture from fog right from the air and can also condense fog into drops and rain them down to soak the soil around them7. But that’s not all. From their leaves, redwoods can release terpenes which help condense moisture in the air into clouds that cool the forest8. Redwoods can also transpire moisture back into the air to help keep the forest cool and moist during dry months for themselves and the plants around them. You can read more about the role redwoods play in the water cycle here.

photo by F. Balthis

10. Only 5% of Redwoods are Left

Only 5% of the original old-growth coast redwood forests that flourished on the Pacific Coast are left. Because redwoods are extremely resistant to insects, fire and rot, they are treasured for building and 95% of them have been cut down since the 1850s26. The survival of several redwood buildings from the 1906 fire in San Francisco launched a flurry of demand for redwood lumber in the rebuilding of the city and elsewhere27. By 1900, logging spurred a group of concerned people to form Sempervirens Club, now known as Sempervirens Fund, and start the redwood conservation movement which has successfully preserved thousands of acres of redwood forest. However, there is much more land still at risk.  In 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed redwoods as endangered28. Today, we have a rare chance to re-establish the once-vast and vibrant local redwood forest into a magnificent, life-giving world between Silicon Valley and the Pacific Ocean. Although many old-growth redwoods have been cut down, younger second-growth redwoods have resprouted since then, some even of the same genetic stock of their massive predecessors. By protecting redwood forests and helping to restore ideal conditions through careful stewardship, old-growth redwood forests can grow again. With a little help from us to get started, the redwood forest can recover from the massive logging and fragmentation that took place during the last 150 years29. Once protected and restored, the redwood forest will take care of itself – providing plant and wildlife habitat, clean air, and inspiration for thousands and even millions of years to come.

Get Involved

You can help Sempervirens Fund protect and care for redwood forests and expand local parks so that you, wildlife, and future generations can enjoy these truly magnificent trees. Donate or volunteer to help preserve and restore the wildlands of the Santa Cruz Mountains. To learn more, read and watch our favorite things about redwoods or visit them in person or virtually.

Sources

Interested in digging a little deeper into the science behind these redwood facts and history? Here are some sources with more information indicated in the facts above:

1

“Tallest Living Tree.” Guinness Book of World Records, 2021, https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/tallest-tree-living

Martin, Glen. “World's tallest tree, a redwood, confirmed.” SFGate, Hearst Newspapers, 15 Jan. 2012, https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/HUMBOLDT-COUNTY-World-s-tallest-tree-a-2550557.php.

Van Pelt, Robert. “Forest Giants of North America.” Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.

2

Endo, S. “A Record of Sequoia from the Jurassic of Manchuria.” Botanical Gazette, 113 2, 1951, Pages 228-230. http://fossilworks.org/bridge.pl?a=referenceInfo&reference_no=70374

3

Yang, Z.Y., et al. "Three Genome-based Phylogeny of Cupressaceae s.l: Further Evidence for the Evolution of Gymnosperms and Southern Hemisphere Biogeography". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 64 (3), 2012, Pages 452–470, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2012.05.004.

4

Earle, Christopher J .”Eon Tree Report.” The Gymnosperm Database, 16 Jun. 1999, https://www.conifers.org/cu/se/eon_tree.txt

5

Narayan, Lakshmi, et al.” A genotyping protocol for multiple tissue types from the polyploid tree species sequoia sempervirens (CUPRESSACEAE).” Applications in Plant Sciences,Volume3, Issue 3, 9 Mar. 2015, Botany Association of America, https://doi.org/10.3732/apps.

Jabr, Ferris. “The Social Life of Forests.” New York Times Magazine, 2 Dec. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/02/magazine/tree-communication-mycorrhiza.html.

Simard, Suzanne W., et al. “Mycorrhizal networks: Mechanisms, ecology and modelling.” Fungal Biology Reviews, Volume 26, Issue 1, 2012, Pages 39-60, https://zoology.ubc.ca/bdg/pdfs_bdg/2015%20Spring/Simard%20et%20al.%202012.pdf.

7

Limm, E. B., et al. “Foliar water uptake: a common water acquisition strategy for plants of the redwood forest.” Oecologia, 161(3), 2009, Pages 449–459, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-009-1400-3.

8

Lund University. "Aerosols from coniferous forests no longer cool the climate as much." ScienceDaily, 25 Sept. 2019, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190925115119.htm.

Kirkby, J., et al. “Ion-induced nucleation of pure biogenic particles.” Nature, 533, Pages 521–526, 2016, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17953.

9

Sawyer, J.O., et al. “Redwood trees, communities, and ecosystems.” Redwood Trees, Communities and Ecosystems: A Closer Look, Pages 81-118, 2000, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287546821_Redwood_trees_communities_and_ecosystems.

Sillett, S.C., Van Pelt, R. “Trunk reiteration promotes epiphytes and water storage in an old-growth redwood forest canopy.” Ecological Monographs, 77, Pages 335–359, 2007, https://doi.org/10.1890/06-0994.1.

10

Sillett, Stephen, and Van Pelt, Robert. “A redwood tree whose crown is a forest canopy.” Northwest Science, 74, Pages 34-43, 2000, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279556792_A_redwood_tree_whose_crown_is_a_forest_canopy.

Sillett, Stephen , and Van Pelt, Robert. “ A Redwood Tree Whose Crown May Be The Most Complex On Earth.”  2000, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237287219_A_REDWOOD_TREE_WHOSE_CROWN_MAY_BE_THE_MOST_COMPLEX_ON_EARTH.

Sillett, S.C., Bailey, M.G. “Effects of tree crown structure on biomass of the epiphytic fern Polypodium scouleri (Polypodiaceae) in redwood forests.” American Journal of Botany, Volume 90, Issue 2,  Pages 255-261, 1 Feb. 2003, https://doi.org/10.3732/ajb.90.2.255.

11

Sawyer, J.O., et al. “Redwood trees, communities, and ecosystems.” Redwood Trees, Communities and Ecosystems: A Closer Look, 2000, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287546821_Redwood_trees_communities_and_ecosystems.

Sillett, S.C., Bailey, M.G. “Effects of tree crown structure on biomass of the epiphytic fern Polypodium scouleri (Polypodiaceae) in redwood forests.” American Journal of Botany, Volume 90, Issue 2,  Pages 255-261, 1 Feb. 2003, https://doi.org/10.3732/ajb.90.2.255.

12

Spickler, James, et al. “Evidence of a new niche for a North American salamander: Aneides vagrans residing in the canopy of old-growth redwood forest.” Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 1,  2006, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26449214_Evidence_of_a_new_niche_for_a_North_American_salamander_Aneides_vagrans_residing_in_the_canopy_of_old-growth_redwood_forest.

Camann, Michael A.,et al. “Old-growth redwood forest canopy arthropod prey base for arboreal wandering salamanders: A report to Save-the-Redwoods League.” Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA, 2000, https://www.savetheredwoods.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf_camann.pdf.

13

Wikipedia contributors. “Pacific temperate rainforests.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 May 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pacific_temperate_rainforests&oldid=1020887730.

14

Cooperrider, Allen, et al. “Terrestrial fauna of redwood forests.” In: Noss, Reed F. ed., The Redwood Forest: History, Ecology, and Conservation of the Coast Redwoods, Island Press, Covelo, California, Pages 119-163, 2000, https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/welsh/psw_2000_welsh001_cooperrider.pdf.

15

Ricketts, Taylor H. et al. “Terrestrial Ecoregions of North America: A Conservation Assessment.” Island Press, 1999, Page 244.

Olson, D., and Sawyer, John. “Northern California coastal forests.” World Wildlife Fund, 6 May 2021, https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/na0519.

16

Sillett, Stephen C. , et al. “Aboveground biomass dynamics and growth efficiency of Sequoia sempervirens forests.” Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 458, 15 Feb. 2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2019.117740.

17

Fimrite, Peter. “New reason to conserve redwoods - they're best at storing polluting carbon.” San Francisco Chronicle, April 30, 2020, https://www.sfchronicle.com/environment/article/New-reason-to-conserve-California-s-redwoods-15238034.php.

18 

Disney, M., et al. “New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure.” Scientific Reports, 10, 15 Oct. 2020, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73733-6.

19

Betts, Matthew G., et al. “Old‐growth forests buffer climate‐sensitive bird populations from warming.” Diversity and Distributions, Volume 24, Issue 4, April 2018, Pages 439-447, https://doi.org/10.1111/ddi.12688.

20

Shirley, James Clifford. “Distribution Of The Redwoods.” The Redwoods of Coast and Sierra, University Of California Press, Berkeley, California,1940, https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/shirley/sec4.htm.

Olson Jr., David F.,et al. “Sequoia Sempervirens.” In Burns, Russell M., and  Honkala, Barbara H. “Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers.” Agriculture Handbook 654, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC., Volume 1, Page 675, 1990, https://ucanr.edu/sites/forestry/California_forests/http___ucanrorg_sites_forestry_California_forests_Tree_Identification_/Coast_Redwood_Sequoia_sempervirens_198/

Little, Jr., Elbert L. “Conifers and important hardwoods.” Atlas of United States Trees, Volume 1, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, D.C., 1971, Page 320.

Fox, L. III, and J. K. Lee. “Ultra-small scale color infrared photography proves useful for classifying and mapping coast redwood forest in California.” In Proceedings from the Twelfth Biennial Workshop on Color Aerial Photography and Videography, American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Bethesda, Maryland, 1989, Pages 61-70.

21

Qing-Wen Ma, et al. “The coast redwoods (Sequoia, Taxodiaceae) from the Eocene of Heilongjiang and the Miocene of Yunnan, China.” Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, Volume 135, Issues 3–4, 2005, Pages 117-129, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.revpalbo.2005.03.002.

22

Dawson, T. “Fog in the California redwood forest: ecosystem inputs and use by plants.” Oecologia, 117, 1998, Pages 476–485, https://doi.org/10.1007/s004420050683.

Haemig, P.D. “Ecology of the Coast Redwood.” Ecology.Info 20, 2012, http://ecology.info/redwood.htm.

Palmer, Brian. “Climate explains why West Coast trees are much taller than those in the East.” Washington Post, April 30, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/climate-explains-why-west-coast-trees-are-much-taller-than-those-in-the-east/2012/04/30/gIQA4Mf9rT_story.html.

23

Zu-Yu Yang,et al. “Three genome-based phylogeny of Cupressaceae s.l.: Further evidence for the evolution of gymnosperms and Southern Hemisphere biogeography.” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Volume 64, Issue 3, 2012, Pages 452-470, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2012.05.004.

24 

Gaman, Tom. “California's coast redwood in New Zealand.” In: Standiford, Richard B., et al. Proceedings of coast redwood forests in a changing California: A symposium for scientists and managers, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Albany, CA, Pages 611-615, https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/41339.

"Californian Redwood."The Redwoods – Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua, New Zealand, 6 May 2021, https://redwoods.co.nz/about/californian-redwood/.

25

Voiland, Adam. “First-of-its-Kind Map Depicts Global Forest Heights.” NASA, 20 Jul. 2010, https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/forest-height-map.html.

26

J.O. Sawyer,et al. “Characteristics of redwood forests.” R.F. Noss (Ed.),The redwood forest: history, ecology, and conservation of the coast redwoods, Island Press, Washington DC, 2000,  Pages 39-80.

Burns, E.E.,et al. “State of redwoods conservation report.” Save the Redwoods League, San Francisco, CA, 2018.

“How many redwoods have been logged?” Redwood National and State Parks, National Park Service, 6 May 2021, https://www.nps.gov/redw/faqs.htm.

Thornburgh, Dale, et al. “Managing Redwoods.” The Redwood Forest, In: Noss, Reed F. ed., The Redwood Forest: History, Ecology, and Conservation of the Coast Redwoods, Island Press, Covelo, California, Page 229, https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/4251/thornburgh1.pdf.

27

Hull, Elizabeth. “Redwood in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fires.”Forest History Today, Spring/Fall, 2006, Pages 36-41,https://foresthistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/FHT_2006_Redwood-in-1906-san-francisco.pdf.

28

Farjon, A., and Schmid, R. “Sequoia sempervirens.” The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 6 May 2021, https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T34051A2841558.en.

29

Gerhart, Matthew. “Expanding the Legacy of Research at the Fritz Wonder Plot, Big River, California: A Report to Save-the-Redwoods League.” Save-the-Redwoods League, and the Mendocino Land Trust, 2005, https://www.savetheredwoods.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf_gerhart.pdf.

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