The Coast Redwood

Sequoia Sempervirens

Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park is surrounded by several amazing walking trails. One of my favorites is the Self-Guided Nature Trail circling the Hike &Bike Tent Campsites and Picnic Area. All the information I am sharing with you I learned from plaques along the trail. (Oh, how I enjoy these small billboards of facts!)

For today’s hike, however, I will be your guide.


Like every plant species, coast redwoods adapt to surviving and thriving in a specific environment. These sequoias prefer a mild climate with little seasonal or daily temperature changes. High moisture levels, dense dripping fog, and damp, well-draining soil are their ideal living conditions.



Naturally occurring fires are healthy events for forests. Fire opens the canopy and floor to more sunlight and helps recycle nutrients to the soil. Think of it as nature’s way of removing old vegetation and debris. The black fire scars below are reminders of the need for destruction to create healthy environments for new and surviving plants and trees.



Fallen redwoods also encourage new plants and trees to grow. These “nurse logs” are the perfect environment for germinating seeds.


The picture below is an example of a western hemlock that started growing this way. As the tree grew, its roots reached around like octopus tentacles surviving on the nutrients of the rotting redwood log and surrounding soil. The “nurse log” is almost completely decomposed leaving the hemlock standing on its own.


Downed trees also provide homes and shelter for animals.

Redwoods are vulnerable to high winds because their roots, believe it or not, only reach a depth of 6 to 8 feet. For added support, however, their root systems extend outward and interconnect with the roots of other trees.




The clover-shaped leaves below are redwood sorrel. They are perfect groundcover for the forest because their leaves are sensitive to bright sunlight.


The next section of the trail will lead us to the edge of the Smith River.






The periodic flooding of the Smith River is important to the redwood forest ecosystem because the receding floodwaters leave behind a new layer of nutrient-rich soil, called alluvium. These fertile alluvial deposits contribute to the growth of new trees and plants.



There is a lesson learned from this self-guiding tour… Everything around us is connected and works together to create a healthy system of living organisms. John Muir, the Scottish naturalist, sums it up with these words, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.

The self-guided trail information was produced by the North Coast Redwood Interpretive Association


Pine cones from coast redwoods are tiny, about the size of a grape, and contain 50 to 100 seeds inside. (plaque on self-guided trail)


The redwood sorrel produces a single white or pink bloom. (

img_4547 (photo by Dr. Gerry Carr)

img_4645 (photo by Fran Cox)

When it gets too sunny, their leaves fold up like an umbrella right before your eyes! (


There are 3 species of redwood:

  • Coast redwood

img_4634 (photo by Ed Cooper)

Coast redwoods grow the tallest and are located along a narrow strip of the Pacific coast stretching from southern Oregon to Big Sur in California. (Mother Nature Network

  • Giant sequoia


The girth of the sequoia prompts its name. These redwoods average more than 20 feet in diameter and up to 35 feet across. They only grow within the Sierra Nevada mountain range. (Mother Nature Network

  • Dawn redwood

img_4640 (photo by Zhang Angie)

Once one of the most widespread tree species in the northern hemisphere, the dawn redwood was thought to be extinct for millions of years until re-discovered in the Sichuan and Hubei provinces of China in 1944.

Due to preservation efforts, such as the Crescent Ridge Dawn Redwood Preserve in North Carolina, the dawn redwood has been re-introduced to the United States as a deciduous, fast-growing, ornamental tree with colorful leaves in the fall. (




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