Would a vacation to California be complete without catching a glimpse of a towering redwood tree? The tallest living organism on earth as well as capable of living for millenniums, the redwood is no less than impressive. Fast-growing and resistant to fire, this tree species is valuable for its wood and ornamental beauty. It grows best in climates that have warm, humid summers and mild, wet winters.
The redwood is a cone-bearing tree, or conifer, a member of the non-flowering group of plants called gymnosperms. Known botanically as Sequoia sempervirens, it is a member of the family Taxodiaceae. It is very closely related to the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and the deciduous dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).
The redwood grows naturally only in a narrow band, about 450 miles, along the extreme western coast of the United States from the Chetco River in southwestern Oregon to the Santa Lucia Mountains in southern Monterey County, California. The width of this band varies from 5 to 35 miles. The climate in this area generally is cool, humid and rainy.
The redwoods are the tallest living species, reaching mature heights of 300 to 350 feet and trunk diameters of 16 to 18 feet. The tree has thick, soft, furrowed bark that is reddish brown. The sharp-pointed leaves are short dark green needles that are held in a flat plane from twigs on the large branches. On vigorous branches, the needles look more like scales. Undersides of the needles are silvery white.
Male cones shed pollen anytime from late winter to early spring, allowing the wind to carry pollen to the female cones on different branches on the same tree. The small female cones droop from the twigs and release seeds in autumn when they ripen.
Redwoods are known to live as long as 2,200 years, as noted by the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce.
Redwood trees grow rapidly, as much as 6 feet in one year. Growing best in moist, acidic, loamy soil and in full sunlight, with more than eight hours of direct light daily, seedlings are capable of growth even in the deep shade of nearby forest trees. The Sempervirens Fund reports that during dry summers, large redwood trees are able to create high humidity fog pockets under the branches, causing condensation and artificial rain to supply some water to the ground below.
Redwood is rated for culture in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 9, where winter temperatures never get below 0 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Redwood resists decay, in its soft outer bark as well as the interior softwood and hardwood core. It is used as timber for manufacturing outdoor furniture and open structures, like arbors. Although massive in size, this tree is also a regarded ornamental tree for parks and landscapes, where it is hardy. In fact, many cultivated varieties exist, including ones with variegated, bluish or pale green foliage as well as a form that is weeping.