Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A New Perspective on Old Growth Redwoods

A couple of years ago Janet took me back to a hidden redwood grove in Humboldt County. My professor at SF State, Harry Thiers used to take us there years ago to find the rare and elusive giant moss, Buxbaumia. I wasn’t much of a moss person and I think I was cold most of the time so I didn’t pay attention.

I couldn’t even remember there was such a grove but Janet persisted and when we got there, the magic ensued.

Redwoods and Ferns

Take a look at these redwood trees. Some of them are 300 feet tall. They are thousands of years old. But the size and age are incidental.

Redwoods at River's Edge

I look at the redwoods differently now. If you look closely at the pictures you will see shoots emerging at the bottom of some of the trees. Physiologically, this is because the hormonal message (don’t grow, I’m the boss up here) from the apical meristem, all the way at the top of the tree, is weak down here at ground level.

Glade in Redwood Forest

The shoots of course are clones of the tree. When the mother tree falls, some of these clones will have taken root and may carry on in her place. What does this mean?

It means that the trees are much, much older than thousands of years. These redwoods are likely clones of the original trees that started here some 200 million years ago. Though their range has shrunken, bastions of these mega-ancient trees still stand.

Redwood Series

The ferns (and mosses like Buxbaumia) that surround them are the only things older in the photograph. All of the shrubs, flowers, and small trees that you see are recent invaders of the landscape. They evolved and moved here tens of millions of years after the redwoods were established on this spot!

Redwoods and Invaders

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