There are only three living species of redwood trees in the whole world. They all belong to the subfamily Sequoioideae. These are the three living species of redwood:
- The Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens ). These are the tallest trees in the world. They only grow naturally near the Northern Californian Coast and Southern Oregon’s coast.
- The Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). These are the biggest trees by volume in the world. They only grow naturally in a small part of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain range.
- The Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). These are weird trees that were thought extinct until being discovered alive in China in the 1940s. Although it is a conifer, it’s deciduous (loses it’s leaves in the winter). Before they drop in the autumn they turn a bright orange color.
Species: Sequoia sempervirens
The Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is also known as the California Redwood, the Coastal Redwood, or the Coast Redwood.
The Redwood only grows in nature on certain parts of the Northern Californian coast and the southernmost coast of Oregon.
The Redwood is the tallest tree in the world. The current tallest tree is the Hyperion tree, measuring 115.61 meters (379.3 feet). Trees over 60 meters (200 feet) are common, and many are over 90 meters (300 feet). Numerous historical specimens reportedly were over 122 meters (400 feet).
The Redwood is not only the tallest tree in the world, it is also one of the longest lived. It can live to be more than 2,000 years old. It has a fibrous thick fireproof bark which just gets tougher as it matures.
Over ninety percent of these old growth trees were logged since the 1850’s. About 75 percent of the remaining old-growth coast redwood forest is now protected in parks and reserves. However, only 29 percent of the entire coast redwood forest, old and young, is currently protected. It’s important to support The Redwood National and State Parks system, which comprises much of the old growth temperate rainforests left on the California Coast.
The Redwood is one of the fastest growing trees on earth. A Redwood achieves most of its vertical growth within the first 100 years of its life. It can grow 1-1.5 meters (3-5 feet) per year. To minimize how many trees get cut down, look for reclaimed redwood and other kinds of reclaimed lumber. And support hemp paper production: hemp requires very little water and no pesticides (not that any crop needs pesticides to thrive. Organic is the answer).
National Parks and organizations like the Save The Redwood League are absolutely key to the well being and longevity of these gorgeous trees and the ecosystems they create. Studies show that Redwoods capture more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than any other tree on Earth (source). These trees have a very happy future. The public’s reverence for the Redwood and nature in general increases with each passing year. Also, Big Oil’s days are numbered- quite soon we will all be driving electric cars (see this graph for how quickly solar power is overtaking the fossil fuel market).
Redwood trees have shallow root systems that extend over 30 meters (100 feet) from the base. And they intertwine with the roots of other Redwoods. They like to live next to each other as families. One might think that a 106 meter (350 feet) tall tree would need really deep roots to stay solid in the earth, but Redwoods have come up with a different solution. Redwoods are able to achieve such enormous heights because they live in “tight tree groupings” (tree families.) Their roots may only extend down 1.5-4.5 meters (5-15 feet) but they branch outward to find buddies. They interlock their roots together and this allows for much more stability, as well as nutrient exchange.
Redwoods need a temperate cloudy climate with year round cool temperatures, near constant rainfall, and little to no frost. The Redwood also requires dense fog in order to thrive- they actually drink it. Some of the fog simply covers the leaves and prevents evaporation. But some of it also enters the stomata, or tiny pores, on the leaves and is drawn down through the branches to the roots. This is the reverse of transpiration (the normal flow of water from the roots to the leaves that exists in most trees.) Redwoods depend on fog for more than 30 percent of their water needs. They get the fog that rises off the Pacific Ocean and the cold clear rivers that run through Northern California.
The Redwood doesn’t like direct sea spray because it is too salty. They like it best between 8 to 48 km (5 to 30 miles) inland. Redwoods are very sensitive to winter frosts and especially intolerant of drought. Redwoods only grow naturally on parts of the California and Oregon Coast and that is where they are happiest. People should only plant trees where that specific species would be happy and truly thrive.
Most of the old growth redwood groves are located in the coastal area of Northern California. The largest populations are in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (Del Norte County), Redwood National Park and Humboldt Redwoods State Park (Humboldt County). Another famous grove is in Muir Woods National Monument, one of the last remaining old growth stands of Redwoods in the immediate San Francisco Bay Area.
Parts of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial were filmed in the Redwoods National Park. I watched this film again recently and decades later it is still great- a really loving and and gorgeously filmed story.
There are Albino Redwood trees!
An Albino Redwood is a Redwood tree which is unable to produce chlorophyll, and so has white needles instead of the normal green. It survives by getting sugar from the roots of nearby Redwood neighbor trees, usually the parent tree from whose base it has sprouted.
About 400 Albino Redwoods are known. They can be found in both Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (has about 11 albino Redwoods) and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The exact locations are not released to the public in order to protect these rare trees. They typically only get 3 meters tall (10 feet) but some reach a maximum height of about 20 meters (66 feet). The reason why you don’t see other large albino conifers (conifers are a group of plants that have pointy evergreen needles and pine cones) is that other conifers lack the ability to graft their roots onto their neighbors. This means the albinos of those species can’t survive to become sizable trees like the Albino Redwood can.
Albino Redwoods used to be regarded as parasitic plants, but as of 2016 one researcher theorizes that they are supported by other trees because of their role in storing toxic heavy metals.
The small, otherworldly trees appear to be removing pollutants from petrochemicals and other manmade sources out of the earth and then storing them so that the surrounding Redwoods do not become harmed. Pollution weakens and kills Redwoods so the albino Redwoods are doing a great service to their community.
“They are basically poisoning themselves,” one scientist said, “They are like a liver or kidney that is filtering toxins.” (source)
Albinos apparently accumulate more toxic metals than normal trees because they have defective stomata (tiny pores in their leaves). This causes them to lose more water through transpiration (too much water evaporates out of their pores). This in turn forces them to take up more water through their roots in order to stay hydrated. This means they pull up a whole lot more heavy metals contaminating the ground water and the roots of Redwoods that they are connected to. Normal Redwoods share their nutrients with the Albino Redwood and in exchange the Albino tree cleanses its family of heavy metals.
Redwood Parents Actually Care For Their Babies Via Their Root System
Redwoods have a complex interchange where they communicate with each other and feed each other through their connected root systems (and fungi plays a huge role in the way the roots of neighboring trees connect with each other). Redwoods also exchange sap nutrients with each other through their roots. They literally feed each other, and indeed it is documented that larger trees will feed the baby trees nearby first before they begin drawing up significant amounts of nutrients for themselves. Here is a fascinating documentary on The Intelligence Of Plants. There is a amazing section on Redwood behavior. You won’t look at plants and trees the same way again after you watch this:
The Giant Sequoia
Species: Sequoia giganteum
The Giant Sequoia is also known as the Sequoia. It is sometimes referred to as the Giant Redwood, the Sierra Redwood, or the Wellingtonia but these other names get kind of confusing and the vast majority of people call it the Giant Sequoia or just Sequoia.
The Giant Sequoia is the sole living species in the genus Sequoiadendron, and it is one of three species of coniferous trees (trees with pine cones and needle like leaves) known as Redwoods. The natural distribution of Giant Sequoias is restricted to a limited area of the western Sierra Nevada Mountain range in California. It is a high elevation tree, giant sequoia groves are generally found at 1,400–2,000 meters (4,600–6,600 feet) in the northern part of their range. In the southern part of their habitat they are found at 1,700–2,150 meters (5,580–7,050 feet). The red areas in the image below show the only places in the entire world where Giant Sequoias naturally grow, and where there are big old growth groves of them.
The Giant Sequoia thrives in an alpine climate with dry summers and very snowy winters. It relies on the melting snowpack for water in drier months. Because of its size, the tree has been studied for its water pull. They can reach such extreme height by using a system called capillary action. This involves the tree’s xylem (xylem, or sapwood, comprises the youngest layers of wood and is full of water tubules). The tree also utilizes sub-pressure from evaporating water occurring at the leaves.
Some Giant Sequoias have been planted around the world and in some places they do okay. There are Giant Sequoias growing in parts of western and southern Europe, the Pacific Northwest of North America, British Columbia, the southern and eastern United States, southeast Australia, New Zealand and central-southern Chile. Some of these trees are big, for example, there is famous grove in Scotland over 50 meters tall (165 feet). Again though, the only place these trees are found naturally is in the California Sierra Nevadas and it is the only area where the trees are utterly enormous. It is very important to only plant a tree where it will be happy and thrive.
Giant Sequoias are adapted to forest fires in numerous ways. Their bark is unusually fire resistant, and their cones will normally open immediately after a fire. This ensures that new baby Sequoias will have enough nutrients and sunlight to grow. This is a short fascinating video that explains this process:
The largest Giant Sequoia (and largest tree on earth by volume) is a tree named General Sherman in the Sequoia National Park. The park is located in the southern mountains of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. While there are Redwoods that are taller than any Giant Sequoia, and other species of trees with wider trunk diameters, the Giant Sequoia is the largest tree on earth by far when it comes to sheer volume (how much space it takes up). The General Sherman tree has about 1,487 cubic meters (52,500 cubic feet) in volume.
The General Sherman tree is 2,300–2,700 years old. Giant Sequoias can live to to be more than 3,000 years old!
The General Sherman tree grows in the Giant Forest, which contains five out of the ten largest trees in the world. The Giant Forest is located in Sequoia National Park. Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are sister parks that share a border. Kings Canyon National Park has the famous General Grant Grove, which is home to the General Grant tree among other famous Giant Sequoias. These Giant Sequoia forests are part of 819 square km (316 square miles) of old-growth forests shared by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
There is also a famous old growth grove called Mariposa Grove which is located in Yosemite National Park.
Like other Redwood species, the Giant Sequoia has no taproot (a taproot is large, central, and dominant root that other roots sprout sideways from. A lot of trees have taproots and many do not.)
Giant Sequoias only root to 3.5-4 meters (12 to 14 feet) deep- even when they are big and old! This is pretty incredible. A mature Giant Sequoia’s root system can occupy over 4040 square meters (1 acre of earth). This enormous underground living field of roots is needed in order to support a tree that weighs nearly 907,000 kg (2 million pounds) and is nearly 91 meters (300 feet) tall. (source)
Some joke about “treehuggers” but in all seriousness, Redwoods and Giant Sequoias are majestic beings, they have an evolved consciousness and a wonderful energy. If you put your arms around one of these giants and just close your eyes and say hello you’ll be amazed at the magnanimousness that emanates from them. Like all high consciousness beings, they like to share good vibes. Watch that documentary “The Intelligence of Plants” – the science showing that trees have their own minds and functionally aware consciousness is utterly fascinating.
The Dawn Redwood
Species: Metasequoia glyptostroboides
The Dawn Redwood is a deciduous conifer. Deciduous means its leaves change color and fall off in winter. This is very strange for a conifer because conifers are almost always evergreen. Evergreen means they stay green throughout all the seasons and don’t shed their leaves in winter.
The Dawn Redwood is native to Lichuan county in the Hubei province of China. It was originally thought to have been extinct for millions of years until a giant living specimen was discovered in the 1940’s. This makes the Dawn Redwood a living fossil.
Even though it is the shortest of the redwoods, the Dawn Redwood can grow to at least 61 meters (200 feet) in height.
Based on current DNA analysis, it is in the same subfamily as the Redwood and the Giant Sequoia. The Dawn Redwood’s only native range is in South Central China, in the Sichuan-Hubei region.
The Dawn Redwood is fast growing and does thrive in numerous parts of the world. There is one specimen in Virginia that has reached 37 m (120 feet) in just 30 years! While the tree’s natural range in China is an area of only about 601 square km (232 square miles), it has been planted successfully in compatible climate zones and biomes around the world.
Here is a Dawn Redwood whose leaves have turned orange and is readying itself for winter.
A Special Thanks to the United States National Park Service for caring for the Redwood and Giant Sequoia, the two redwood species endemic to the American West.