The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is the sole living species of the genus Sequoia in the cypress family Cupressaceae. Common names include coast redwood, California redwood, and giant redwood. It is best known for being the tallest living tree, and among the largest living trees overall. As of this publication, it was listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
It is closely related to the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and dawn redwoods of the genus Metasequoia, of which M. glyptostroboides is the last surviving species. Some paleobotanists believe that the coast redwood is the result of reticulate evolution, in which two species hybridize to give rise to a third. In this case, the ancestors of the modern giant sequoia and dawn redwood may have together given rise to the coast redwood.
It is an evergreen, long-lived, monoecious tree. This species includes the tallest extant trees on Earth, reaching up to 379 feet (115.52 m) in height and up to 26 feet (7.9 m) diameter at breast height. The roots are shallow in the ground and spread widely. Its bark can be up to a foot thick, soft and fibrous, and reddish-brown when first exposed; this is where the redwood gets its name. The bark becomes darker with time. Leaves may be up to an inch long, but in direct sunlight are smaller and scale-like. Seed cones are up to one and a quarter inches long and contain up to seven seeds, each of which has two wings.
Seeds are tiny, weighing 3.3 to five milligrams, and possess two wings. These descend to the forest floor and germinate. Most seedlings do not survive their first year; however, those that do begin to grow very quickly, attaining a meter per year. At this rate, they can grow to 66 feet (20 meters) in twenty years. At ten to fifteen years of age, they are sexually mature and begin producing cones. Overall, a coast redwood may live for 1,200 to 1,800 years or more.
The coast redwood is not sexually dimorphic. It is monoecious, meaning that the male and female reproductive structures (the pollen cones and seed cones) exist on the same plant.
These trees are more common in mountainous areas near the coast, where they benefit from precipitation coming off the ocean. Older and larger trees can be found in valleys, living off of rainfall and fog. Coastal fog benefits them, but salt spray and sandy soil keeps them from growing too close to the coastline. The environments where these trees grow is perpetually damp, and they have a very large need for water.
Before commercial logging and clearing began by the 1850s, this massive tree occurred naturally in an estimated 2,100,000 acres (8,500 km2) along much of coastal California (excluding southern California where rainfall is not abundant enough) and the southwestern corner of coastal Oregon within the United States. It exists only within this narrow strip of land, which stretches from Monterey County northward to the Chetco River. Due to its restricted range and loss of habitat, it is currently considered an endangered species.
Despite its stringent habitat requirements, the coast redwood has actually been introduced to land outside its native range. Most are grown in state parks and on private property. In North America, a small number are grown in parts of Oregon and California outside where it is normally found, as well as the state of Washington, the Canadian province of British Columbia, and central Mexico. In Europe, it has been grown on the Iberian Peninsula, in the British Isles, and in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Slovakia. It is also grown in Africa, particularly in South Africa, but also rarely in Algeria. In South America, it has been cultivated in Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. Coast redwoods are also cultivated in the Pacific, including Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and the Gulf of Fernandez.
Within the Gulf, the redwood has been introduced to Isla Sorna, Isla Nublar, and Mantah Corp Island. It was probably grown on Isla Sorna first, as adult trees were seen in 1997; to have reached that size, they would have had to be planted in the 1880s at the latest. The trees grew in the northeastern and central parts of Isla Sorna. Meanwhile, it was not known on Isla Nublar until the 2000s, when it was introduced to the T. rex Kingdom attraction in Jurassic World. More were grown in the north for Camp Cretaceous. In order to reach such large size in such a short time, they were likely subject to genetic modification. It is also possible that the redwoods in Jurassic World were not Sequoia sempervirens, but rather a de-extinct prehistoric relative. After the 2018 eruption of Mount Sibo, they are likely extinct. The ones on Mantah Corp Island are grown in the redwood forest biome of the island’s de-extinction facility, and were probably also grown using genetic modification or other technological methods.
The coast redwood takes in carbon dioxide during the day; it utilizes energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates. Its activity slows at night.
Diet and Feeding Behavior
Attaining enormous size permits the coast redwood to tower over other trees, gaining sunlight that it uses as energy for photosynthesis. It has very large water needs, so it must grow in areas where it has ready access to fresh water. Carbon dioxide is taken in through the leaves and combined with water to create carbohydrates. Oxygen is produced as a waste product.
Redwoods grow in large forests, and may have some limited degree of chemical signalling with one another. When the plant reproduces asexually, the younger trees are stimulated to grow when the main “parent” trunk is damaged.
There are three methods by which the coast redwood can reproduce. The most studied is traditional sexual reproduction, in which pollen (produced by pollen cones) fertilizes the larger seed cones. The cones begin developing during the winter, and are mature by autumn. Seed cones, once fertilized, can produce between 90 and 150 seeds, and a freshly-matured tree can produce thousands of seed cones in a season. However, most of the seeds are not viable; only 3% to 10% of the seeds are fertile and can grow into new trees. Wind may bear the seeds up to 390 feet (120 meters) away from the parent tree, where they will begin growing. Most seeds do not survive their first year, being eaten by predators. The survivors will rapidly grow at a rate of one meter per year, becoming sexually mature between ten and fifteen years old.
Coast redwoods can also reproduce asexually. A tree stump, root crown, or even a fallen branch may start sprouting into a brand new tree, such as when a mature tree falls over. Sprouts burst from underneath the bark when the tree becomes damaged, creating a line of offspring that grow up from the body of the original tree. When a root crown or tree stump gives rise to offspring, the young trees occur in a circle often called a “fairy ring” centered around the stump or roots. These sprouts can grow up to 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) in a single season.
The third reproductive method used by coast redwoods in real life is self-cloning from burls. A burl is a thick woody structure, a lignotuber, that grows on the roots up to ten feet (three meters) below the soil on the redwood. These burls develop from the axils of the seed-leaf in seedlings; this is exceedingly rare in coniferous trees. If the burl is damaged, sprouts will emerge from it; the burl can also grow into a new tree if it becomes separated from its parent.
Because their offspring start out so small, and because the overall tree is so large, a coast redwood will have its greatest reproductive success after wildfires clear away smaller plant life.
Many species of plants utilize chemical signals to communicate. Trees commonly use their roots to transmit these signals; there is some evidence that symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi may play a role in this communication. Specifics in the coast redwood are not known at this time.
Redwood forests create a unique ecology dependent on fog drip for water, and the sparse nutrients in the soil are mostly used up by the huge trees. As a result, they depend heavily on animal droppings and decomposition of dead organisms to provide them with more nutrients. Other trees supported by redwood forest environments include tanoak, Douglas fir, and hemlock, while the undergrowth is made up of ferns, mosses, mushrooms, and other life. These unique forests attract a wide range of animals, such as deer, bears, and endangered birds such as the marbled murrelet and spotted owl. Mammals feed on younger trees and the plants supported by their ecosystem, while these birds and many more nest among the branches. When a redwood dies, it deposits a massive amount of nutrients into the ecosystem as it is decomposed by fungi and microorganisms.
To last as long as they do, redwoods must be extremely resilient to natural disasters. Their bark is fire-resistant, so after forest fires sweep through an area, they are often the only trees left standing. Many grow in regions prone to flooding, and to acclimate after floods they will put out new roots and grow into the disturbed soil. This stabilizes the ground, but causes the tree to lean; to counteract this, it grows reinforced bark on the opposite side to strengthen itself. They are also resistant to pests such as rot, insects, and parasitic fungi. Because of these adaptations, redwood trees persist in an ecosystem for thousands of years, providing stable long-term homes for animals while other plant species come and go around them.
On Isla Sorna, the presence of large herbivorous dinosaurs would help these trees to thrive. Dinosaur species known to inhabit redwood environments include Stegosaurus and Compsognathus. Based on an older script of The Lost World, it is possible that the sauropod Mamenchisaurus could be found among redwoods. There is evidence of Tyrannosaurus rex activity near redwoods as well. No animals have been seen feeding on these trees yet, and the trees are likely too large to be significantly damaged by any other than the very largest dinosaurs.
The massive size and long life of the coast redwood make it one of the most impressive tree species and it has enthralled humans on the Pacific coast of North America for as long as people have been there. It is often used as a symbol of longevity; its specific name, sempervirens, even means “ever-living” or “evergreen.” Because of its ability to survive natural disasters, the redwood also has a reputation for stalwart ruggedness and strength in the face of hardship.
With such specific requirements to grow and such an enormous potential size, the coast redwood is not an easy tree to cultivate and is only grown in particular regions. The most well-known entity to manage the growing regions of the redwood was the Pacific Lumber Company, which operated from 1863 until 2008 and managed around two hundred thousand acres of redwood forest. Before them, the forests were managed by the Yurok people, who used controlled burns to keep fresh growth of smaller trees. The redwoods themselves easily resist fire, making controlled burns safer in redwood forests than perhaps any other biome.
It is cultivated throughout its native range and the surrounding areas to the north, south, and east. Successful growth has also been accomplished in central Mexico, South Africa, Hawaii, Portugal, Italy, Great Britain, South Africa, and Haida Gwaii. It is naturalized in New Zealand. Their success in New Zealand compared to other regions is due to the high amounts of rainfall there; they get even more water than in their native range, which helps them flourish. Redwoods grow fast during their first few years of life, so while they may take a full human generation to get truly enormous, they will become tall enough that the generation which planted them will be able to witness their impressive size.
Perhaps the most unexpected places these trees have been grown are in the Gulf of Fernandez, where they can be found on some of the small volcanic islands scattered throughout the Pacific. Redwoods on Pacific islands is not unheard of, as they grow well in New Zealand and Hawaii, but their habitats on Isla Sorna and Isla Nublar are much smaller. It is unknown who planted them on Isla Sorna, though to reach full size by 1997 they would have had to be planted in the 1880s at the latest. They may have been planted by the same people who operated the island’s banana plantations before the island was sold to InGen.
On Isla Nublar, it was InGen itself who planted the redwoods; these were grown to full size (and some were especially massive) in as little as ten years, meaning they were probably genetically modified or supplemented with growth boosters. Alternatively, these may not have been genuine coast redwood trees but rather de-extinct sequoia species, or possibly hybrids of different species.
In spite of its natural giant size, this tree can be grown in bonsai form.
Redwoods and other sequoias support a unique type of ecology, in some cases encouraging the evolution of species specialized to that type of ecosystem. Biologists frequently travel into redwood forests to study the wildlife and sample the unique species found there. A felled redwood can inform scientists about past ecology, too; the growth rings in the tree trunks are a vision into the tree’s personal history, and often contain interesting information. Scientists can study these to learn about weather and climate patterns, plant disease, nutrient availability, and other natural events dating back thousands of years. This provides a look into the history of the Pacific North American ecosystem and the forces driving its evolution.
With redwood timber being such a valuable natural resource, it is of utmost interest of the United States and California governments to manage its productivity. During the early nineteenth century, extensive logging of old-growth forests began and continued until there was little old growth left. Most logging from that point onward was done in secondary growth. These logging practices proved unsustainable, continuously reducing the amount of redwood available in the wild. Local tax exemptions encouraged clearcutting during the twentieth century. Eventually the tree had to be manually cultivated. It is currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.
Logging of redwoods is a controversial practice as it strips the coastal Californian ecosystem of the tree species that acts as that ecosystem’s foundation. Environmental protests have often focused on the redwood because its size and age makes it charismatic and therefore an effective tool for swaying public favor. However, some misconceptions about redwood ecology have cropped up as a result; for example, it is not true that the redwood forests immediately sprung up when the glaciers retreated after the last ice age. Actually, the redwood forests developed over many thousands of years and represent the climax of long-term ecological development.
The redwood forests have supported a human population for thousands of years. Their oldest human inhabitants are the Yurok people, who used controlled burns to encourage the growth of plants that they used for resources such as acorns, basketmaking materials, and medicine. Since redwoods help reduce the spread of forest fires, controlled burning is safer here than anywhere else, making it a very reliable practice. The Yurok maintained the redwood forests in pristine condition for many generations before Europeans colonized the area.
Coast redwoods are the most commercially valuable source of timber. Because it lacks resin, it absorbs water, making it very fire-resistant and therefore desirable in construction. An excellent example is the huge fire resulting from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake: the fire department reported that the flames left buildings constructed from redwood standing, despite ravaging the rest of the area. It is also resistant to rot, making it ideal in the construction of railroad tires and trestles; many of the railways leading out of California when the state was colonized were built from redwood. The trees were felled extensively during the late nineteenth century until there was little old growth remaining. Practices became more industrialized after World War II, with clearcutting and selection logging becoming prominent. Clearcutting removed all trees in the area, while selection logging removed only a quarter to half of all redwoods. While clearcutting was favored by local tax policy, it was hoped that selection logging would encourage the forest to regrow. In fact, earlier methods of stripping the trees and burning branches were actually less harmful; the fires cleared areas for the seedlings to take root, creating secondary-growth forest. By simply removing vast swathes of redwood trees, the remaining area was quickly host to other species of plants and redwoods failed to take root. The surviving redwoods, no longer supported by the forest ecology they depended on, suffered and many were toppled by high winds.
In addition to their use for timber, coast redwoods can be tourist attractions because of their impressive size. They are popular sights in some of California’s national parks, with some walking trails cut directly through fallen redwoods and allowing tourists an up-close look at just how large these plants grow.
Redwood tourism is not only restricted to their native range. Cultivation has been successful in some areas throughout North America and other parts of the world, allowing more people to witness these astounding trees. Their size does mean that only the largest and most resource-rich gardens can support them, though. They were notably used as tourist attractions in two different parts of Jurassic World on Isla Nublar, which was operated by International Genetic Technologies between 2005 and 2015. The most well-known case was in the T. rex Kingdom attraction, where they were used to simulate the environment of western North America where the Tyrannosaurus once roamed. The second was less known because it did not successfully open to the public: Camp Cretaceous, an experimental youth adventure camp intended to open in 2016. Several redwoods were used as bases to build elevated platforms where campers’ quarters could be set up, with bridges suspended between them and elevators built directly into the trees’ outer layers.
As mentioned in above sections, it is also possible that the species used in Jurassic World was not truly the coast redwood, or at least not a purebred version. It may have been a close relative in the Sequoioidae family, for example one of the extinct redwoods, or a hybrid of modern and extinct species.
Full-sized redwoods are hardy and long-lived, making it unlikely that one will fall without warning. Generally you need not fear that a redwood may be in danger of collapsing at any given moment; when they die, there will be plenty of time to take note and ensure that members of the public are not too close by should it fall. More isolated redwoods, such as those left behind after selection logging, are more likely to be toppled by wind and thus are a hazard. Avoid logging areas during high wind or weather events.
Climbing the coast redwood can be accomplished so long as precautions are taken. Few people really set out to scale this tree, mostly adventurous tourists and environmental biologists. Equipment used will be more like what you would bring for rock climbing than tree-climbing; prepare as though you are about to scale a steep mountain. All the same precautions should keep you safe, but in case an accident occurs, bring a field first aid kit, know where the nearest emergency medical services are available, and never climb alone.