Redwood trees, also known as Sequoia sempervirens, are considered to be the most massive trees in North America, as well as the second largest trees in the world. If you're not familiar with the scientific name of redwoods, you may recognize these trees online or from famous movies due to how massive they are. Although some may wish that redwoods could cohabitate around the world, these trees only thrive in mild, even temperatures with high levels of moisture coming from winter rains and summer fogs. That means if you're looking to see these trees in real life, you're going to have to take a trip to the West Coast to get a glimpse of these magnificent living organisms.
Where do Redwood Trees Grow?
There are three types of redwood trees, but only two of them grow in the redwood forests of North America. These two redwoods are considered to be the most popular, and they're called giant redwoods (or just redwoods) and coast redwoods. These types of redwoods grow on the West Coast.
The redwood forests can be found throughout a narrow strip of land running from southern Oregon to the south of Monterey in northwestern California. You can tell the difference between giant redwoods and coast redwoods easily because giant redwood trees tend to populate in the same area and not overlap with coast redwoods.
The third redwood species is called the dawn redwood, and it grows in a remote area of central China. Dawn redwoods are one-third the height of coast redwoods.
Redwoods used to grow in a variety of places besides the Pacific Coast, including western North America, as well as on the coasts of Europe and Asia. Two types of sequoia trees that are considered to be relatives of the coast redwood are the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). The giant sequoia only grows in California's Sierra Nevada range and can withstand an elevation between 5,000 and 8,000 feet. They're considered to be shorter but thicker than the coast redwood.
Redwood Life Span
Coast redwood trees generally have a life span between 50 and 100 years, but there are some cases where foresters have found coast redwood trees that are as old as 2,200 years. Foresters that study these trees believe they can live to be even older than that. Generally, giant redwoods live longer than coast redwoods, with some giant redwood trees living for over 3,200 years.
Redwood trees are known for having bark with a deep rosy hue that's about 12 inches thick. These trees aren't only good at fending off forest fires because of their thick trunk, which holds a lot of water on the inside of the tree, but the tannins ward of any insects, fungus and diseases that will try to damage the tree. Tannins are a yellowish or brownish bitter-tasting organic substance that's in the bark of the tree or other plant tissues.
Redwoods are also natural climate change heroes. Redwood trees can store carbon dioxide, and coast redwoods hold more CO2 than any other tree in the world. They can carry approximately 2,600 metric tons of carbon per hectare, which is about 2.4 acres.
How Tall Are Redwoods?
As of 2017, the tallest living coast redwood is 380 feet tall and one inch, but they can grow upwards of over 400 feet tall. The largest coast redwood is currently in California's Redwood National Park. When Guinness World Records measured the tree in August 2006, it reached 378 feet, but when Dr. Steve Sillett, Michael Taylor, Chris Atkins and Dr. Robert Van Pelt measured the tree in September 2006, it was 379 feet, 8 inches. When the tree was measured again in 2009 and 2017, measurements showed that the tree was still growing.
During their younger years, coast redwoods can grow an average of 6 feet per year. Whereas coast redwoods are known to be one of the most massive trees, giant redwoods only grow to be a little over 300 feet. In comparison to famous monuments, redwoods grow six stories taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Trees That Grow on Redwoods
The way that redwoods grow is quite spectacular. Their roots don't grow that deep into the ground, with most roots only extending 6 to 12 feet down. Although the roots don't grow deep, they intertwine with one another, which is why the tree is so stable.
High up, mats of soil are on the upper branches of the canopy, which allows support for other plants, worms, insects, salamanders and mammals to thrive. Plants that grow on the redwoods are called epiphytes, and these trees grow upwards of 40 feet tall. Some of these trees include the cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica).
Many wild endangered species, such as mountain lions, coho salmon and marbled murrelet, thrive on the growth and development of redwood forests. Mountain lions use the forests as sanctuaries, coho salmon spawn in the free-flowing streams and the endangered marbled murrelet, a sea bird, will only nest in tall redwoods and old-growth Douglas fir trees.
How to Plant Redwoods
Unfortunately, redwood trees aren't the type of trees that you'd casually grow in your garden. Redwood trees not only need a massive space to grow, but they'll also overtake your lawn and deplete the moisture in the air for other plants. Redwoods grow from seeds, not cutting other redwood trees. If you were able to grow redwood trees, you would plant young saplings in a sunny location where there's organically rich soil, lots of moisture and good drainage, surrounded by other redwoods in their natural habitat, and the soil would need to be kept moist at all times.
Coast redwoods are considered to be some of the oldest living organisms in the entire world. Since redwoods can live more than 2,000 years, studies show that coast redwoods were around during the Roman Empire because the oldest redwood was about 2,200 years old. Most redwoods are way younger than that, though, because of the effects of the California gold rush.
When gold seekers arrived in California in 1849, they began to log the redwoods to keep up with the demand of lumber in the area. Today, only 5 percent of the original old-growth coast redwood forest remains. Fewer than 100,000 acres of redwoods dot the coast.
Putting aside that redwood trees have created a diverse ecosystem and have benefited our environment through their storage of CO2, the forests are bursting with beautiful trees that are considered to be some of the most iconic living organisms in the world.
Hollywood has individually taken note of these complex organisms. Due to the giant size of the redwoods and their alien flora (plants of a particular region, habitat or geological period), scenes from the Star Wars movie Return of the Jedi were filmed in Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. Also, if you're a big Jurassic Park fan, you might have noticed that scenes for Steven Spielberg's movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park were filmed at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Patrick's Point State Park, and Fern Canyon.