Redwoods Are Family Oriented

P90223KCoastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, are remarkable stable trees. They rarely fall, which is how they get to be thousands of years old. They prefer to live in groups, where they mesh their roots together, and shelter each other from wind. Those that live outside of a group stay shorter than forest trees, and typically develop multiple trunks that function as a group.

However, they are also remarkably weak in regard to their structural integrity. Limbs are easily broken away from their vertical trunks by wind. Snow, which is rare within their natural range, causes significantly more damage than wind, which is probably why their natural range does not extend into snowy climates. Trees with co-dominant leaders (double trunks that divide from single trunks above grade) have potential to split at the union of the double trunks. Such unions are typically at such acute angles, that the trunks press against each other rather than fuse together through impenetrable compressed bark.

Leaning redwoods such as these that were shown earlier this morning, are potentially hazardous, not because they are likely to fall over, but because they might be likely to break. The trunks are designed to support weight vertically. The asymmetrical distribution of weight supported by these two trunks exerts inordinate lateral tension on the trunks. To make matters worse, the trunk to the left is divided into two co-dominant leaders, although the union does not appear to be at a typically acute angle. (The lower trunk is now behaving more as a big limb than as a secondary trunk.)

I would guess that these two trees are genetically identical trunks from the same root system. Such seemingly pliable trunk structure is uncommon, and it is very unlikely that two such similar trees would just coincidentally appear within such minimal proximity to each other. Redwoods often develop multiple trunks from the same root system, particularly as they regenerate after harvest.

The good news is that these two trunks have survived like this long enough to develop ‘reaction’ wood, which is just like it sounds; a bit of extra wood to compensate for compression on the inside of the bend. Also, they are sheltered from wind by the other redwood in the forest around them.



P90217Saint Joseph did not have it so good. He is still the most famous carpenter, and somehow got the most excellent city in the World named after him, but he did not work in a shop like this one. The most well outfitted carpentry shops back then lacked modern power tools, and the selection of woods that are now so easily imported from all over the World.

The best lumber in this shop at the Conference Center (where I work in the landscapes part time) is actually not the exotic sort. Three very important timber crops, (coastal) redwood, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, happen to be native. A few of the larger of these trees that need to be removed get milled into lumber that gets used here.

Much of the lumber shown in this illustration is recycled from old buildings that were built from local lumber at a time when it was not so practical to import lumber to such a remote location. The rack on the back wall, at the center of the picture, contains old doors that are ready to be recycled. Flooring and moulding were made from native oaks, which are not the easiest to mill, but happened to be the most available. Nowadays, most of the lumber used here is procured from the lumber yard across the road, but it is neither of comparable quality, nor very interesting.

What is most interesting about the carpentry shop is not seen in the illustration above. There are a few on the Maintenance Crew who are proficient with structural carpentry, and one who is a finish carpenter. The finish carpenter is as proficient with carpentry as arborists are with trees that produce lumber. He is very familiar with all the various woods, and what they are useful for. It is his expertise that will ensure that the old recycled wood, as well as newly milled wood, will be utilized accordingly.

More of my bragging about the Maintenance Crew can be found at: .

Big Trees


They are the biggest. Giant redwoods are revered for their age and size. It was not always like that.
Many of the biggest giant redwoods were killed merely for bragging rights. Whoever discovered the biggest got to arrange to get it cut down, and then pose on the stump for photographs. Some trees were cut down just so the rings could be counted. Many felled trees were just left to rot where they fell. It was not practical to transport the lumber out of the remote regions of the Sierra Nevada where the trees lived. That was at a time when ‘sportsmen’ shot from trains into herds of wild buffalo, only to pose with the biggest dead carcass they could find in the aftermath, and then leave all of the deceased to rot on the prairie.
So, at about the same time in history that the related coastal redwood was being harvested so indiscriminately for lumber, the biggest of the giant redwoods were killed primarily for sport. Even in regions from which lumber could have been transported from, no one could figure out how to get such massive giant redwoods onto the ground without fracturing the lumber within. Because their wood is so brittle, smaller giant redwoods that were harvestable were simply cut and split into shakes, grape stakes, and fence posts and rails. Young and healthy specimens of the biggest trees in the World were used for the smallest and most unglamorous forms of lumber.
The biggest of the giant redwoods are of course protected now, mostly within national parks. They are quite accessible to those who want to visit and admire them. I got this picture with one of my esteemed colleagues in front of the General Sherman tree in wintertime back in the early 2000s.

Six on Saturday: Redwoods Again


Redwoods are such interesting trees. There is always something to write about them. I happen to live and work within the native range of the coastal redwood. I often work with very big redwoods, both in the wild, and in landscaped areas that were formerly wild. There are no other trees that are comparable. The giant redwoods in the Sierra Nevada are bigger, but they are also very different.

1. In most home gardens and landscapes, trees that get cut down get recycled into greenwaste and firewood. Not many are big enough to get recycled into lumber. Even fewer are big enough to get milled into big timbers. This milled redwood lumber is drying before getting milled again into timbers and smaller sizes of lumber that will get used to repair and remodel some of the historical old buildings. A bit of pine lumber is also obtained from the big ponderosa pines nearby.P80825

2. Limbs, foliage, bark and parts of the redwood trees that can not be milled into lumber get chipped. Chips get used as mulch in landscaped areas. After taking this picture, I realized that it is not really a pile of chipped redwood, but is instead chipped wood waste. Chipped redwood is typically green with foliage. Oh well, you get the idea.P80825+

3. The Ewok Village of ‘Star Wars IV – Return of the Jedi’ was in a redwood forest near Fortuna. This is not really an Ewok Village.P80825++

4. It is a Redwood Canopy Tour. People (not Ewoks) can be seen on a platform in the yellow rectangle just above and to the right of the center of the picture. Someone on a zip line can be seen in the white rectangle just below and barely to the left of the center. It looks crazy to me, but many of my colleagues do crazier things at work.P80825+++

5. Most of us have seen pictures of massive redwood trunks. Most of us have seen pictures of redwood forests. Not so many of us have seen what the foliage looks like.P80825++++

6. This perennial pea has nothing to do with redwoods, but needed to be included as a token flower for this week. Besides it is cool. It is softer pink than the bright purplish pink that is so typical, and is blooming very late.P80825+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Here are a few links for some of my brief articles about redwood:


General Sherman Tree


The biggest, tallest and oldest trees in the World are all native to California. The biggest trees are the giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum. The tallest trees are the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. The oldest trees are the bristlecone pines, Pinus longaeva. The biggest and the tallest are two of only three specie of redwood in the World, and except for a few coastal redwood that live barely north of the Oregon border, both are endemic only to California. Most of us know that the coastal redwood is the state tree of California. However, some believe that California is the only state with two state trees, which are the two native specie of redwood.

This gives arborists from California serious bragging rights.

Most of the arborists whom I work with are very familiar with the coastal redwood. Not only is it the most prominent tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but it is also a common tree in landscapes of the Santa Clara Valley.

The other two specie are not nearly so common. Neither perform well in landscape situations, and certainly not locally. Even if they did, the giant redwood gets much too bulky to fit into urban landscapes, and the bristlecone pine is a bit too irregular for refined landscapes. Because they both live in somewhat remote regions within California, some very experienced arborists have never seen either of them in the wild. Of course, it is not something we talk about much.

I still have not seen bristlecone pine in the wild. The only specimens I have ever seen were bonsai stock that had not yet been cultivated as bonsai specimens.

In the late 1990s, I had not seen giant redwood in the wild either. I had only seen the unhappy specimens that were planted on the sides of roads between San Jose and nearby towns during the Victorian Period before the urban landscape had become so inhospitable to them. One of my respected colleagues who had seen many of the more interesting trees of California in his travels had not seen them either.

Fortunately, it was nothing that a good old fashioned road trip could not fix. Without much planning at all, we drove out to Sequoia National Park and met with the General Sherman Tree. There was too much snow to get very far, so we did not get similarly acquainted with the General Grant Tree farther up the road. It was one of the most compelling horticultural trips of my lifetime, right up there with going to see the native California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, outside of Palm Springs, or the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, outside of Palmdale. I know that the picture above is not a good picture of my colleague with the General Sherman Tree. It is from a time when cameras still used film. Getting pictures transferred to a compact disc was merely an option back then. The sepia toned picture below is even older, but it is not mine.00


P80804KHow Italian! Red, white and green! A coastal redwood with a white albino sport (mutant growth) amongst otherwise deep green foliage. Actually, it is very Californian. Coastal redwood is endemic to California with only a a few north of the border on the extreme southern coast of Oregon.
Such sports are quite rare. Back in the late 1970s, an article in World Magazine mentioned that only five of these albino ‘trees’ where known to exist. There were actually more, even back then, but others were not documented. (They were WithOut Papers – WOP.) The specimen in the picture is at a home that is about a century old, so it was known about for a very long time, although not documented.
Albino foliage is a lethal mutation. It lacks chlorophyll, so can not sustain itself. It only survives because it originates as basal watersprouts that remain attached to the original green trees that produce and then sustain it. Attempt to graft albino grown onto other green trees has been unsuccessful.
Albino growth looks pretty in pictures, and is provides striking (although very perishable) cut foliage that is even more striking with black flowers, but does not make such a nice tree. It stays shrubby at the base of the originating tree, without developing distinct trunks or substantial branches. It does not shed old foliage as efficiently as green growth does, so always looks grungy. To make matters worse, albino foliage is more sensitive to frost, so gets killed back every few years or so, and then is slow to shed the dead foliage and stems.
Coastal redwood is one of the most fascinating trees in the World. It is the tallest, and among the biggest and oldest. It is no wonder that it is the state tree of California.

Big Tree In A Small Town

P71005Trees get planted all the time. Apparently, nature does not do the job adequately. Trees get put into specific locations to provide shade, produce fruit, enhance a landscape, obscure a view, or for any of a vast number of reasons. It is amazing that they are as accommodating as they are. It is rather presumptuous for us to think that they actually want to live with us in our synthetic environments as much as we want to live with them.

The coastal redwood is the tallest tree in the world. It can live for thousands of years. An individual tree can produce enough lumber to build a small house. It is no wonder that they are so impressive to anyone who sees one for the first time.

Many towns within the natural range of the coastal redwood were established for the redwood lumber industry. Felton, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is one of those towns. George Featherstone of Ottawa came to Felton in 1888, and was so impressed with the coastal redwood trees, that he planted one in the middle of town only a few years after his arrival. This tree was only a teenager when redwood harvesting increased to supply lumber to rebuild San Francisco after the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and then to develop the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area.

More than a century later, the Featherstone Tree is still here, and is the biggest thing in the small downtown. The Community Deck was built around it by volunteers from the Community many years ago. It is not as tall as trees in the forest are, but only because it does not need to compete with them. It is shorter and stouter, and really seems to enjoy being the center of town. It is quite the celebrity.

Mr. Featherstone had no idea of how important the tree he planted would become. It would be nice if we all could do such nice things for our communities, but then the world would be much too shady.

P71005+(‘ninties’ means the 1890s.) This Redwood Tree was planted in the early ninties by one of Felton’s early settlers, George Featherstone, a man who knew the wonder and beauty of these trees. Born in Ottawa, Canada in 1872, he came to the San Lorenzo Valley on March 17, 1888. He died on September 27, 1947.