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How the weather affects California's giant redwood trees


Last updated 12/25/2021 at 4:02pm

Roger Boddaert

Special to the Village News

Early in my childhood, my parents would take summer outings to explore the many parks and natural wonders within California. On one of those exploring excursions, we traveled to the northern section of California to camp among the giant redwood trees.

At that camping experience, I first saw the giant and majestic sequoia sempervirens or California Coastal Redwood trees. That awe-inspiring happening was to plot the forming and governing of my future journey within the world's plant kingdom.

Imagine standing in a grove of giant trees and looking upward to the sky above, over 300 feet from the forest floor, and feeling the incredible spirit of those redwood trees as a young lad.

The coastal redwoods grow today along the northern Pacific coast of California and are survivors of the forests that existed some 140 million years ago.

The iconic redwood forest is about a 500 mile stretch along the Northern California coastal belt. They are rarely found far from the sea and enjoy the moist temperate rains and coastal fog that shroud these trees throughout the year.

The tallest of those trees grows in the flood plains of the creeks and rivers that are subject to periodic colossal flooding.

The fog plays a significant role as it hovers over these tall giants and supplies summer moisture that condenses on the uppermost branches. This water source is valuable, so the tree does not have to transport water up to its top from the ground below.

Within the tops of the redwoods is a unique ecosystem of living organisms all to themselves, like ferns, salal, frogs, birds, invertebrates, mushrooms and many species of mosses and fungi living in harmony.

Both in circumference and volume, the most massive trees on earth are the sequoiadendron giganteum trees. These are often called the Big Tree or Sierra redwoods of California's Sierra Nevada mountains.

The General Sherman redwood is located in the high Sierra Mountain range. A few years ago, I attended a holiday wreath-laying ceremony at that iconic tree with some friends; we had to trek through the snow to pay homage to this giant tree.

The firefighters of last summer heroically wrapped aluminum foil around the base of General Sherman, and it was saved from the surrounding fires, thank goodness.

Our beloved redwoods are now experiencing significant climate changes, with less rainfall and dried under canopy vegetation on the forest floor, fueling fires with more frequent lighting strikes throughout the dry seasons of the year.

These giants have played a significant role in fighting climate change as a carbon sink, and I pay sincere gratitude that they have helped protect our delicate planet now changing in many directions.

The redwood trees have very thick spongy bark ranging up to 12 inches and range in color from reddish-brown to grey, making them reasonably resistant to fires and insect invasions.

But when trees of any type go through a drought cycle, their immune and defensive systems start to break down and are vulnerable to outside invasive circumstances, just like you and me. I have often said trees are like people, with no two exactly alike.

Last summer's fires in Northern California have scoured these stands of trees, and it is estimated that over 10 to 15,000 redwood trees have been lost this year alone.

Some new trees will sprout from the tree's base, but we will have to wait and see and let nature respond in her way.

When trees are lost in these specialized forests, the hillsides become denuded, erosion can wash away the precious topsoil, organic matter, and the eroding silt can build up in rivers, changing the water quality for flora and fauna in that region and drinking water as well.

Earth's forests contain thousands of species of trees, each of which is distinguished by its seeds, leaves and growth. Regardless of species, all trees have the same general structure and requirements for survival.

They all utilize water, soil, air and light to manufacture food and to grow and produce seeds for the next generation in their species.

These giant root systems only grow to about five to eight feet in depth but extend as much as 300 feet wide from the original tree trunk, collecting water and nutrients to sustain life.

The seed cones of these mighty giants are only the size of a dime but produce trees about one-third the size of the Empire State Building, which is a towering 1,454 ft in height from the floor of the Manhattan cityscape.

The fibrous root network has miles of mycorrhizae mycelium fungi to interconnect from tree to tree. This communication system transports various information amongst all living trees and is a wealth of valuable data as the trees co-exist in forests and woodland settings.

The timber industry started in 1800 in California to cut and harvest these giants for the demanding lumber needs of the gold rush.

But today, only 3% of redwoods remain under local, state, and national protection through parks, preserves, and private holdings.

Wilderness needs the protection of all types, for we have lost so many species of flora and fauna globally, and the future of our planet lies within all of our hands.

The ecological clock is ticking, and it is now or never for all of us to do our part in not only caring for our earthly mother but stepping up to the plate, for we all hold part of that commitment.

There are so many ways that you can pitch in with time, energy, or monies to plan, protect, and plant again and again, as the simple act of planting trees globally aids in the cooling of our planet.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time is today. You can contact Roger Boddaert at 760-728-4297.


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