Where Are Coast Redwoods Found?
Coast redwood forests are very rare and grow naturally only in a narrow 450-mile
strip along the Pacific Ocean from central California to southern Oregon. More
than tall trees, a redwood forest is a complex set of ecosystems made up of
an astounding variety of living and once-living things.
How Old Are They?
Individual coast redwood trees can live for hundreds of years. In some areas
of their range, they can live more than 2,000 years. The oldest known coast
redwood tree was 2,200 years old.
How Do Redwoods Reproduce?
Redwoods are conifers, which means they have cones and needle-like
leaves. A coast redwood cone is about 1 inch long and contains 14 to 24 tiny
seeds about the size of a tomato seed. A single tree may produce millions of
seeds in a year. Only a small percentage of the seeds actually germinate and
grow into seedlings.
Although coast redwoods can grow from seeds, they more commonly reproduce
from sprouts. New trees can sprout from the roots of parent trees, from buds
at the base of a tree or from a fallen tree. If a tree is cut or burned, a circle of
trees may sprout from the stump, forming a “fairy ring” of new trees.
Where Have Redwood Fossils Been Found?
Redwood trees are true “living fossils.” As a genus, redwoods have existed
seemingly unchanged for millions of years. Redwood fossils older than 144
million years have been found throughout the western United States and
Canada and along the coasts of Europe and Asia. Close ancestors of the
coast redwood were living when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
Coast redwoods prefer mild year-round temperatures with winter rain and
heavy fog, a climate that was more common in earlier ages. The last ice
age limited coast redwoods to their present range along the coast of northern
California and southwestern Oregon.
How would it measure up to a coast redwood tree?
The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is the
world’s tallest tree species and among the
oldest living things.
10-Story BuildingCoast Redwood Giant Sequoia Apple Tree
Mature coast redwood trees often reach more than
320 feet tall and many of the tallest known trees
are more than 360 feet high. Coast redwoods can
reach these heights because they are very resistant
to disease and insects. The wood has a high level
of tannic acid, which is toxic to most insects. These
fascinating trees are named for the beautiful red
color of their bark and heartwood.
How’s the Weather
Imagine standing at the base of a coast redwood tree. If you
crane your neck and look up, you will just see the lowest branches
some 10 stories above you. If you peer even higher up, through
the distant branches and needles, you will hardly see the top of
the tree, which can be higher than a 37-story building. Just how
can a coast redwood get so tall?
Trees continue to grow as long as they live — and coast redwoods
can live more than 2,000 years. However, age alone cannot
fully explain the redwoods’ vast height because they are not the
oldest trees in the world. Some bristlecone pines in the White
Mountains of California are more than 4,500 years old but
usually only grow to about 60 feet.
The coast redwoods’ environment plays a large part in why
they grow so tall. These trees live where the soil is very rich in
nutrients, where they are mostly protected from winds and where
they receive lots of winter rain and summer fog. These conditions
allow them to thrive and grow to great heights.
Scientists now think that fog may be a critical reason for coast
redwoods being so tall. Where the trees live, winters are very
rainy, but there is very little rain the rest of the year. During
the summer, however, a thick fog usually blankets the region.
Redwood trees are able to intercept this dense fog in their
crowns, where it condenses on their leaves.
The trees use this fog in a number of different ways. First, the
fog reduces the amount of water that the trees need because
they lose less water through their leaves when it is foggy. Second,
the trees can absorb the fog directly through the leaves, which is
an especially important source of water for young trees. Finally,
the condensed fog drips to the ground below the trees, where it
soaks in for later use.
With summer fog and winter rain, redwoods have water all year-
round — this may be the most important reason for their great
It’s in the Genes
Redwoods have more chromosomes than
most other cone-bearing trees, a fact that also
may help them grow tall. Chromosomes are
the part of the cell that carries genes. Conifers
usually have 20 to 24 chromosomes, but
redwoods have 66 or more. That is because
redwoods have six copies of each chromosome,
while most conifers have two copies of each.
How does the number of chromosomes help
the redwoods grow? With six copies of each
chromosome, a single tree can have several
alternative forms of a gene. For example,
a tree may have two or even three different
gene codes for an enzyme that helps the tree
fight a certain disease. This means that if a
pest or disease tries to attack the tree, the
tree has a greater chance to protect itself. The
healthier the tree, the more likely it is to grow.
VarietyIs the Spice of a Forest’s Life
Many other tree species can live among the redwoods. Examples
of these are Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, grand firs, Sitka
spruces, tanoaks, madrones, maples and California bays.
Rhododendrons, dogwoods and ferns thrive underneath the trees,
as do poison oak, huckleberry, hazel and many flowering herbs.
Redwood forests also support a large number of animal species,
including more than 200 different vertebrates. Frogs, salmon,
toads, salamanders, snakes, lizards, marbled murrelets,
sparrows, blackbirds, wood warblers, bats, squirrels, chipmunks,
mice, weasels, bear, deer and elk all can be found among
Many people think a forest is just a bunch of trees that all look alike.
But a healthy forest is really about variety. An ancient coast redwood
forest has a mixture of different trees and shrubs that are many different
ages and sizes. This allows for a range of different animals and plants
to live in the forest. The greater the variety, the more diversity — and a
healthy community depends on diversity.
About Save the Redwoods League
The native people of California treated the
majestic coast redwoods with reverence.
They did not usually cut down
redwoods, but used fallen trees
to make planks for houses and
hollowed-out logs for canoes.
There were 2 million acres
of ancient coast redwoods in
California and Oregon before the
1849 Gold Rush. Since then,
redwoods have been logged
for lumber and to make way
for roads, houses and other
buildings. At first, there were so
many trees that people did not
worry about cutting them down.
Today less than 5 percent of the
original ancient forest remains.
Save the Redwoods League was
founded in 1918 to protect these
awe-inspiring trees. Over the
years, the League has purchased
many thousands of acres of
forestland and has helped to
develop dozens of state and
national parks and reserves.
Much work remains to ensure
that future generations
can enjoy these magnificent
forests. Thousands of acres of
ancient redwood forest remain
on private land and could still
be logged for lumber or for
The League also considers
climate change a serious
threat to coast redwoods. Many
scientists are concerned
that rising temperatures and
changing weather patterns
will reduce the coastal fog on
which redwoods depend and
may further limit the range of
redwood forests. Together we
are studying the potential
effects of climate change to
determine how best to protect
these amazing ecosystems.
Since 1918, Save the Redwoods
League has saved redwood forests
so that people can be inspired by
these precious natural wonders —
now and in the future. The League
and its partners help people of all
ages experience these majestic
trees through the forestlands we
have helped protect and restore,
the many education programs we
sponsor and our Web site.
Visit the Save the Redwoods
League Web site at
Find books about redwood trees or
ancient forests at a local library.
Research different organizations
that work on forest issues and join
one you like. Send your redwood art,
poetry, photos or memories to Save
the Redwoods League, and we might
post them on our Web site!
Visit a Park
Plan a trip with your family to
a park or reserve in the ancient
redwood forest. See the Save the
Redwoods League Web site at
for information on redwood parks
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Trees are logged because there
is a demand for wood and paper
products. You can help reduce the
demand by reusing and recycling
paper, cardboard and wood at
home and at school.
Plant a Native Tree
Learn what kinds of trees are
native to your area and choose one
to plant. Find a location for the tree
that will allow it to grow for many
years. If you can’t plant a tree, find
a local group that will plant one
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