The California redwood is a tree of exceptional height, with some growing to be as tall as 367 feet. The California redwood has fossil ancestors as old as 160 million years, but now occupies just a fraction of its former range. The tree has felt the devastating effects of over-harvesting, as logging these trees reduced them to just 4 percent of the 200 million acres they once grew upon, according to the National Park Service website.
The California redwood holds the title as the world's tallest species of tree, although the giant sequoias are the most massive in terms of their total volume. Bristlecone pines are the oldest recorded trees but the redwood gives them a run for their money in that department as well. While some redwood trees exceed 300 feet, the average height range is between 200 and 275 feet. The trunks average 8 to 10 feet in diameter, with some measured at 22 feet. Ironically, the needles of this massive giant are just an inch long at the most and the cones are only an inch in length.
Geography and Climate
The only place in the world these redwoods grow is along the northern California coast, where the climate provides the impetus for the tree to thrive. The air there is cool and filled with moisture, with the fog that rolls in from the Pacific protecting the redwoods inland when temperatures soar in the summer. The National Park Service estimates that fog is responsible for as much as 40 percent of the moisture some of the redwoods take in.
Redwoods can reach 2,000 years old, with many easily attaining their 600th birthday. Scientists do not know why the trees are so long-lived but attribute some of their longevity to a superior resistance to such dangers as fires and insect pests. The redwood bark is very thick, as much as 10 inches in some specimens, and the foliage of the tree avoids scorching from most fires when they do occur. The soil of a redwood forest is an especially rich mixture of earth, fungi, mosses and other organisms that contribute to the tree's health.
As tall as a redwood tree is, it lacks a taproot. This tree of incredible heights possesses a root system that only goes an average of 12 to 13 feet deep into the surrounding soil, and the system may spread out in all directions into an area about 60 to 80 feet in diameter. This means that the redwood is susceptible to blowing over in a high windstorm. The amount of water the redwood transports upwards through its trunk all the way to its top is in the hundreds of gallons, with much of it leaving the tree via the transpiration process through the needles.
On April 3, 1937, the legislature of California designated the California redwood as the state tree. On October 2, 1968, the Redwood National Park, near the Oregon border in California, came into being and it expanded in 1978 to its current size of 131,983 acres. There are also state parks dedicated to preserving these trees; these combined parks contain 45 percent of the existing redwoods on the planet.