Muir Woods National Monument is home to some of the tallest trees on Earth: the coastal redwoods there measure in at 260 feet tall, or, the height of a 24-story building. But they can top out at nearly 400 feet! The trees grow in the moderate temperatures along the western coast of California, in places where they are protected from the elements, like wind and salt spray coming off the Pacific Ocean. Coastal California is known for its fog and this helps supply moisture during the dry season.
Redwoods can live through the hazard of wildfire due to fire-resistant tannin found in their bark. Tannin is a biomolecule; a more familiar example: most wines aged in barrels absorb tannin from the wood. Extremely hot fires (predicted to get worse in the future) can eventually burn through the bark, reaching the more vulnerable heartwood within. Most of these trees are hundreds of years old – with some larger ones clocking in 1000 years or more. We can know this by counting their tree rings. Additionally, wider rings indicate wetter years, better for growing, while thinner rings indicate times of little growth (drought).
The redwoods have adapted to slow climate change over the centuries. With the speed of anthropogenic change, including changes to the cool and moist conditions these trees have grown accustomed to, the future of the redwoods hangs in a delicate balance. To walk amongst these giants is something truly spectacular. John Muir was right: “Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods.” At some point in life – and hopefully at many points – everyone should go for a long walk in the woods. When we go out into nature and realize just how important and interconnected it is with our survival, perhaps we will be better stewards.
photo: U. Peña, at the Muir Woods National Monument, California