This is a blog about the native conifers of the Pacific Northwest. It is a companion to the Northwest Conifers site. The blog will focus on timely and interesting details about our conifers, their connections to the rest of the environment, and our connection to them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Focus on Redwoods

Redwood at Lady Bird Johnson Grove

The California redwoods are the most impressive conifers in the Pacific Northwest. They are notably the tallest trees in the world. They grow straight and tall to a height of over 300 feet. The world's tallest tree is a redwood named Hyperion, discovered in 2006 in Redwood National Park. It is 379 feet tall. Redwoods reach maturity at 500 years. The oldest is over 2200 years old. These giant, ancient trees also have many other exceptional, unique features.

Redwood needles are flat and lie flat on the twig like grand fir. But unlike grand fir, they point forward at an angle. Their growth pattern is optimized for growing in the shade. However, needles in the sun at the top look like the short leaves of the redwood’s cousin, the giant sequoia. When the old needles fall, the twig falls with the needles attached like two other relatives, the dawn redwood, native to China, and the bald cypress, native to the southeastern United States. 

The small, egg-shaped cones look like miniature giant sequoia cones. They are hard and woody with scales that look like lips. It’s amazing that the tiny seeds inside can grow to be the world’s tallest trees. However, redwoods have a backup plan for reproduction. They have epicormic buds in their trunk and roots. As long as the tree is healthy, the tree suppresses the growth of these buds. If the tree falls or is burned in a fire, the buds can sprout and grow. Then they become cloned trees, growing in a row on a fallen tree or in a circle around a stump. If the top of the tree is killed by fire, buds can sprout and send up multiple shoots, creating a virtual treetop forest. Moss and even soil can become part of this arial ecosystem, where birds, mammals, and reptiles thrive. The tiny red tree vole spends its entire life living in the top of a large redwood, eating its favorite food, redwood needles. However, the life of the red tree vole may be short, because it's a favorite food of the spotted owl.

The brown bark is similar to the bark of the giant sequoia, thick with deep furrows. It's quite soft to the touch, especially when wet. This thick bark is the redwood’s defense against fire and can be over 12 inches thick. 

In Oregon, redwoods grow only on the extreme southern coast near Brookings. The northern-most sites are in two groves along the Chetco River. Redwoods extend from Oregon to the central California coast, but the tallest trees are in northern California. Redwoods once had a much larger distribution across North America and even Europe and Asia. You can see a petrified redwood stump at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. 

The redwood was initially classified in the genus of the bald cypress and given the name Taxodium sempervirens in 1824. In 1847 it was placed in a new genus, Sequoia and given its present scientific name, Sequoia sempervirens. Sequoia is named after Sequoyah, the Cherokee who created a writing system for the Cherokee language. Sempervirens means evergreen. 

Most of the extensive redwood forests have been logged over the last 150 years. The largest living trees are now preserved in state parks and Redwood National Park. Managed redwood plantings on private land now produce the lumber for many uses. The wood is light, strong, and resists decay. Its beauty and color make it a favorite for siding, decking, fencing, and lawn furniture.

Redwoods at Hoyt Arboretum

You can find a planting of 90-year-old redwoods at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland. To find some larger redwoods, go to Brookings on the southern Oregon Coast. To find the tallest redwoods, you’ll have to go on to California, where you can see them at Redwood National ParkMuir Woods National MonumentJedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and other state parks along the California Coast.

Redwoods may have ranged farther north along the Oregon Coast. You can see a large stump of a redwood on the beach south of Waldport at what is often called Big Stump Beach. According to a recent study this stump likely grew in this location, rather than being deposited on the beach from the ocean. It is located ¼ mile north of the beach access at Wakonda Beach. 

Redwood stump at Big Stump Beach

As the climate warms, more redwoods may be moving to Oregon, with the help of tree planting activists. Already, volunteers have planted some seedlings on the north slope of Humbug Mountain near Port Orford. These plantings may help combat the climate warming that led to the planting. A redwood forest stores more carbon per acre than any other ecosystem. So, planting more redwoods is an incredibly good idea.


See also

Redwoods at the Gymnosperm Database 

Redwood at Wikipedia 

Epicormic shoot at Wikipedia 

Florissant Fossil Beds 

Mystery in the Sand: Big Stump Beach 

Potential Late-Holocene Disjunction of Sequoia sempervirens on the Central Oregon Coast

Could clones save California’s endangered redwoods — in Oregon?