Beautifully straight, like sentinels on guard

Growing up in the country, I arrogantly thought “if you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all”… but that attitude quickly changed when I began to walk around in the Redwood Forest State Park in Humboldt County, California.

Over and over again, I was struck by the sheer size of these majestic giants. Redwoods can grow to be over 350 feet tall (about 100 metres): think a 30-storey building… Beautifully straight, like silent sentinels on guard (sorry – I blame my military background), they block out all but the most determined rays of sunlight trying to reach the ground below.

I took an interpretive walk (because, yes, I am JUST that nerdy) with a guide at the Park and found out so many things about these proud trees that gave me a new appreciation for their species.

We began our tutorial by stopping in front of a 1500-year-old tree. Yes, I meant to write 1500. I cannot even fathom that – that’s ten times as old as Canada and fifty times as old as a decent bottle of 25-year-old scotch. When this tree was a sapling, the Persians were still fighting with the Eastern Roman Empire. They’ve outlasted natural disasters like floods and pests, and survived man-made encounters with explorers and loggers.

The stories they must hold!

I wandered a bit behind the group because I was taking a few pictures and the guide was chatting with the other tourists. And two things struck me: so many of them have long black battle scars – burn marks which serve as reminders of forest fires that have raged through the area – and yet they stand. Forever bruised but enduring, thanks to their impenetrable bark that can grow up to a foot thick. The second thing was the fascinating symbiotic relationships they have, while dead or alive, with the other living things in the forest.

One of these such relationships is with the (insert shudder here) banana slug. This interesting little creature eats plants that compete against the redwood saplings for nutrients, light and water. In turn, the trees create the moist environment the slugs like.

These trees are also only found on the coast, and as anyone who lives near water can attest to, that generally means LOTS of fog. Scientists have found a particular kind of fungus lives on the leaves at the top of the redwoods, which absorbs the moisture from the fog, allowing the tree to get much of it’s water from the top instead of through it’s root system.

And when one tree is finally brought down due to age, disease or storm, it is quickly (in our estimation, not theirs) used for shelter, nutrients and support for other organisms to survive.

Rotting tree allows other plants to grow
The symbiotic relationship between the redwood and other plants in the forest

There’s a lot more information that I won’t bore you with (and even more that I forget!) but I wanted to at least pique your interest so you will go visit them if you are ever traveling down the west coast. They will still be there, patiently waiting for you, as they have for centuries.

I don’t think they would ever disappoint and I will never again think “a tree is a tree is a tree”…

Redwood tree
The majestic redwood tree grows straight and proud

OK, so a few additional facts:

  •  They can survive up to 2000 years.
  • Their roots only go up to 6 or 7 feet deep into the soil but they travel almost 100 feet (30 metres) from the trunk of the tree.
  • The knobby growth that is often seen at the base of the trunk is called a burl. It contains unsprouted bud tissue and stores the genetic code of the parent tree.
  • They “self-prune” their lower branches. You’ll never see a mature redwood with branches near the ground – that’s because the lack of light causes the branches to die and the tree naturally gets rid of them.

To walk amongst the giants

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