in the redwoods – part four

This is the fourth and (maybe) final post in a series on the Coast Redwood forests that we visited in September and October. Click on these links to view parts one, two, and three.

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As evidenced by the above sign, these Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) are big trees in almost every respect. With many of them standing over 300 feet tall and over 150 feet to their lowest limbs, all sense of scale goes out the window. How do you rationalize standing next to a tree that’s roughly the height of a 30 story building? It’s also difficult to imagine how these trees remain standing on what are comparatively small root systems. A brochure for the Redwood National and State Park states: Redwoods have no taproot; their roots penetrate only 10-13 feet deep but spread out 60 to 80 feet.

When you’re walking about in most groves, fallen trees are a common enough sight, and the exposed root systems are, indeed, comparatively small. The structure of a well-weathered root system may be seen in this photo taken in Montgomery Woods in Mendocino County.

I’ve previously mentioned the mass of these trees and all of the life which they support. This information page on the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association website states:

In a tropical rainforest, where vegetation is so thick as to be impenetrable, it seems like the ultimate in dense forest conditions. Surprisingly, however, the greatest accumulation of biomass (living and dead organic material) ever recorded on earth is in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where an acre of stem mass (redwood tree trunks) alone has been estimated at 1,541 tons. When branch, leaf and root mass are added, the estimate increases to 1,800 tons per acre – seven times the density of biomass in an acre of tropical rainforest!

When walking in the Redwood groves, it’s certainly not difficult to appreciate that you are in the company of some of the most ancient and venerable giants on earth.

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5 Responses to “in the redwoods – part four”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    This has been a very fine series on these venerable old trees. Once you’ve walked among them, it seems unimagineable that someone would cut them down to make a fence or a deck. When I lived in northern California, I recall thinking that if you stood on the shoulder of highway 101, you could watch the redwood forests going by sideways on the backs of huge trucks. Sometimes the trees were so big, only one would fit on a load. A voracious appetite we humans have, and we are eating the world.

  2. burning silo Says:

    robin – As you might guess, I very much agree. I find it quite appalling to consider how little remains of the original forests. And, if not for some forward thinking people much earlier in this century, there would be considerably less. Actually, that should be the subject of a fifth piece — the effort to save some of the Redwood groves — so perhaps I’ll follow up with that quite soon.

  3. Mark Says:

    I agree, Robin. I cannot imaging cutting down one of the redwoods. But then I see what people do elsewhere, and I realize that cutting down redwoods is pretty much in line with what lots of people do all the time.

  4. LauraH Says:

    I can’t imagine trees that large! There is a redwood specimen in the botanical garden I visit here in NJ and it looks like a toothpick compared to these. Beautiful trees – what a shame to cut them. Maybe in your follow-up post you’d talk about what they’re used for when cut? I can’t imagine anything being worth destroying them for.

  5. burning silo Says:

    Mark – I know, I can’t imagine cutting down one of these trees. To me, it seems the tree-equivalent to harpooning a whale. I don’t have a major problem with forestry that is done in a sustainable way – but to cut down trees that are hundreds or even a thousand or more years old and that can keep growing and providing habitat for so much other life. Uh-uhn. Personally, I don’t see that at all.

    Laura – I’ll try to post something soon about the trees and how their wood has been used. However, for now, I know it is prized as lumber for decks and similar structures that are exposed to the weather as it has properties that make it rot-resistant.