The Pacific Coast is home to some of the tallest trees in the world, so trying to spot the treetops could well result in a crick in your neck, reports S. Muthiah
All along a 450-mile stretch of west coast America is the home of the tallest trees in the world. Once, in this narrow hinterland of the Pacific Coast, from central California to southern Oregon, were two million acres of these trees, the Coast Redwood. Today there are just a few hundred acres of them in Redwood Belt’s scattering of State Parks, protected forest reserves amidst which are stands of the giants.
About 25 miles due south of San José and the heart of Silicon Valley is one of the smaller of these stands, just 40 acres in the midst of the 4650-acre Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. And there I found myself one morning not so long ago peering up to spot the tops of trees that seemed to be touching the skies. All I got was a crick in the neck. A tip for other `Escapists’: Stick to looking at the thick and rough-barked trunks.
But even looking at a trunk when you try to grab a view of The Giant’s trunk from close can be quite a challenge. The Giant, the star of the Park, has a trunk with a circumference of over 50 feet and a diameter of 17 feet. Maybe YOU can, but I couldn’t take it all in. Nor could I come anywhere near taking in the whole 275 feet of The Giant’s height. Once the tallest Redwood, it lost its title when a storm several years ago knocked down 75 feet of its top to bring it to its present height. But it’ll need the mother of all storms for its record of being the oldest tree in the park – an estimated 2000-plus years old – to be knocked down.
You wonder at such a giant growing from a tiny seed; 100,000 seeds to a pound will give you an idea of how tiny! You wonder too about the marvel of a root system that sinks only six to twelve feet holding up such giants till the Ranger you are talking to explains that the roots spread laterally and intertwine with the roots of other Redwoods to create a carpet of roots holding up several trees.
We go on to see the Fremont Tree the Ranger urged us to as we moved along on the nearly mile-long loop that’s the Visitors’ Trail. General John Fremont was surveying a trail from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1846 when, legend has it, he spent a night in the hollow of a giant Redwood here that had been burnt out or struck by lightning. He was never to confirm the story, but he did say, “Let the name stand”. Today, even an NBA basketball giant can walk upright through the entrance of the hollow and feel the mustiness of the humid interior – as I did. Hint: Not recommended if you are claustrophobic.
Forest fires and lightning strikes are common, we were told. And I could see scores of trees along the trail with large, scorched hollows in them. But we were also told that fires, felling the smaller trees, make space for growth – as do the frequent storms. It is, however, only intense fires that can create a hollow in a tree, burning through the thick bark that is enriched with protective tannic acid and secreted water that keep away any insects and modest flames threatening Sequoia (Redwood) sempervirens (everlasting).
There are three kinds of Redwood, the Coast species, Giant Sequoia smaller than Coast Redwood, and Dawn Redwood that’s even smaller. Strangely, they inhabit three distinct and small regions, separated, the scientists say, 10,000 year ago. All these groves have become even smaller since the gold rush of 1849 when the hundreds of thousands who came in search of a fortune logged as if there was no tomorrow. Fire and flood did the rest, while also helping in regeneration. Helping in that regeneration is the Park’s totem, the Banana Slug, yellow and slimy, that recyles nutrients from the forest floor. I managed to leave the Park without slipping on one and drive the few miles to Santa Cruz on the coast to watch from the boardwalk the seals and dolphins at play – and rest beneath our feet on the boardwalk’s moorings.