Tall Trees

Tall Trees

Coast redwoods tower over California state park.


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Biology, Experiential Learning, Geography, Physical Geography

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In 1991, the Dyerville Giant fell to earth.

The tree was a 110-meter (362-foot) coast redwood. It was taller than the Statue of Liberty. It stood in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, United States. The crash was so loud that people in the closest towns thought it was the noise of a big train accident. The redwood's fall moved the earth. Vibrations registered on a nearby seismograph, a device scientists use to measure earthquakes.

Dave Stockton runs the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association, a group of volunteers that run visitor centers and tours for the park. He remembered visiting the redwood the day after it fell. Stockton walked alongside the tree past its base. Its roots stick up from the ground.

Stockton showed me the tree while walking around the park in 2010. The toppled Dyerville Giant is just one of many amazing trees here. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. The park is home to some that rise more than 107 meters (350 feet) into the air.

The park's redwood trees are called coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). Their range stretches along the coast of California. The tallest coast redwood is in Redwood National Park. It is known as the Hyperion Tree.

Rockefeller Forest

One of Humboldt Redwoods State Park's finest features is the Rockefeller Forest. It is a collection of enormous redwoods. Stockton and I look at the trees. Their twisted bark makes the redwoods look like giant strands of rope.

The Rockefeller Forest is known as one of the finest groves of redwoods in the world. It has trees of all ages. There are "dog hairs," young redwoods that cover the ground in patches. Older redwoods have what are called goose pens. These are large caverns in the base of the trees. Oldest of all are the decaying stumps that stick out from the earth like giant teeth.

Stockton says redwood trees thrive within the park for several reasons. The trees like the area's mild temperatures and coastal fog. (The trees collect moisture from fog.)

Some of the redwood trees in the Rockefeller Forest are covered with spiderwebs. They almost look like beards. It is fitting since the redwoods here are very old. The average redwoods in Rockefeller Forest are estimated to be 600 to 800 years old. The oldest are up to 2,000 years old. Redwoods are able to reach such ages because they have high amounts of tannin. It is a natural compound that keeps insects away. The trees also have low amounts of resin. That helps them survive forest fires.

Threats to Redwoods

Stockton believes the greatest natural danger to redwood trees is high wind. The trees can grow hundreds of feet into the sky. However, they have a very shallow root system. In a windstorm, the redwoods can really sway.

Humans have long prized the wood of redwood trees. Some local Native American peoples built canoes and sweathouses out of the tree trunks. They used the roots to make baskets. In the 1850s, loggers harvested redwoods for buildings and railroad ties.

The forests are important to many plants and animals. Bats often live within hollowed-out redwood trunks. Birds build their nests on the trees' wide branches.

When a redwood falls, the number of animals living on it doubles. The fallen tree has more contact with the ground. This allows more animals and plants to reach the water stored within it. Downed redwoods are often home to large numbers of insects. The trees provide dens for skunks and foxes.

The trail passed through a section of forest called Cathedral Grove. It featured the largest redwoods of the hike. Sunlight slipped down through the branches as Stockton described what he finds most amazing about redwood forests. "It's so quiet," he said.

Fast Fact

Movie Magic
Scenes for Return of the Jedi and The Lost World: Jurassic Park were shot in California's Redwoods National and State Parks. In The Lost World, the parks stand in for the fictional Isla Sorna, a tropical island where dinosaurs roam free. In Return of the Jedi, the parks stand in for the forest moon of Endor, where ewoks roam free.

Media Credits

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Stuart Thornton
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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