The Coast Redwood is the sole living species of the genus Sequoia. It is an evergreen, long lived, monoecious tree living for up to 2,200 years, and this species includes the tallest trees on Earth, reaching up to 379 feet. The current tallest tree was discovered in Redwood National Park during Summer 2006 by Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor and has been measured as the world’s tallest living thing. There are 33 measured living trees more than 361 feet.
Coast Redwoods occupy a narrow strip of land approximately 470 miles and 5-47 miles in width along the Pacific coast of North America. The elevation range is mostly from 90 to 1200 feet, occasionally down to sea level and up to 3,000 feet. They usually grow in the mountains where there is more precipitation from the incoming moisture off the ocean. The tallest and oldest trees are found in deep valleys and gullies, where year round streams can flow and fog drip is regular. The trees above the fog layer are shorter and smaller due to the drier, windier, and colder conditions. In addition, tanoak, pine and Douglas-fir often crowd out redwoods at these elevations. Few redwoods grow close to the ocean, due to intense salt spray, sand and wind.
The northern boundary of its range is marked by two groves on the Chetco River on the western fringe of the Klamath Mountains, 15 miles north of the California-Oregon border. The largest populations are in National Parks in Del Norte and Humboldt Counties, and in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
This native area provides a unique environment with heavy seasonal rains of up to 100 inches annually. Cool coastal air and fog keep the forest consistently damp year round. Several factors, including the heavy rainfall, create a soil with less nutrients than are necessary, causing the trees to depend heavily on the entire biotic community of the forest and complete recycling of the trees when dead. This forest community includes Coast Douglas-fir, Western Hemlock, Tanoak, Pacific Madrone, and other trees along with a wide variety of ferns, Redwood sorrel, mosses and mushrooms.
Redwood forests provide habitat for a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Old growth redwood stands provide habitat for the federally threatened Spotted Owl and the California-endangered Marbled Murrelet.
The thick, tannin-rich bark, combined with foliage that starts high above the ground provides good protection from both fire and insect damage, contributing to the Coast Redwood’s longevity. The oldest known Coast Redwood is about 2,200 years old. Many others in the wild exceed 600 years. Interestingly enough, Coast Redwoods because of their seemingly timeless lifespan were deemed the everlasting redwood at the turn of the century. In Latin, sempervirens means everlasting, a coincidence unbeknown to those who named these giants.
The prehistoric fossil range of the genus is considerably greater, with a subcosmopolitan distribution including Europe and Asia until about 5 million years ago.
Coast Redwood is one of the most valuable timber species in California, with 899,000 acres of redwood forest, all second growth, managed for timber production. Coast Redwood lumber is highly valued for its beauty, light weight, and resistance to decay. Its lack of resin makes it resistant to fire. Because of its impressive resistance to decay, redwood was extensively used for railroad ties and trestles throughout California. Many of the old ties have been recycled for use in gardens as borders, steps, etc. Redwood burls are used in the production of table tops, veneers, and turned goods.
The Coast Redwood is locally naturalized in New Zealand, notably at Rotorua. Other areas of successful cultivation outside of the native range include Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, the Queen Charlotte Islands, middle elevations of Hawaii, a small area in central Mexico and the southeastern United States from eastern Texas to Maryland.
The tallest non-redwood tree is a 331 foot tall Eucalyptus regnans, dubbed Centurion, discovered near Hobart in Tasmania, Australia.