Tall Trees

California’s Redwoods

by Virginia Hayes

California has two official state trees, the coast redwood
(Sequoia sempervirens) and the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron
giganteum). Each is the only species in its respective genera, but
both belong to the same family, the taxodiaceae. Both are evergreen
conifers and bear small, rounded, woody seed cones typical of their
family. There the resemblance ends.

Coast redwoods live, as their name implies, along the coast.
Their range extends from central California north to southern
Oregon. They are restricted, however, to the zones of the coastal
mountains where fog prevails much of the year. Studies of their
biology have shown that the arrangement of their leaves in two
ranks to form flattened fronds actually serves to condense moisture
out of the fog and allow it to drip to the forest floor below,
providing “irrigation” where none exists. This fact makes them
harder to grow as a garden specimen in dry interior valleys. Along
the South Coast, they fare a little better, but probably never
attain the same stature or age that they might in their native
range. There, they can live to be more than 2,000 years of age and
top out at more than 350 feet in height.

Across the big central valley, on the lower slopes (below 8,000
feet) of the Sierra Nevada, lives the giant sequoia. These “big
trees” are truly stupendous. Though they may not quite reach the
same stature as their coastal cousins, reaching just above 300
feet, they quite often have diameters in excess of 23 feet. The
giant sequoia boasts another claim to fame in that it can live to
an even greater age than the coast redwood. Specimens have been
estimated to be 3,000, even 3,500, years of age, although most are
in the age range of 400 to 1,500 years. Unlike the fogbound coast
redwood, giant sequoias thrive in winter snows and the sweltering
heat of central California summers. Rarely planted in Southern
California, they nevertheless will grow with some success in the
Santa Barbara region.

Coast redwoods are common in our landscapes, but as with many
trees, sometimes you need to go to the forest to really experience
their grandeur. Take a trip to see one or both of our state trees
for an encounter that can’t be duplicated anywhere else on

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer
your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent,
122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to vahayes@lotusland.org.


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