So, I decided to hit the biggies in the area and certainly one of the most important is the The Coast Redwood. Long considered to be the tallest trees in the world, reaching over 380 feet up north, if not then pretty dang close. You must read "The Wild Trees" by Richard Preston.
Santa Cruz was to some extent, built cutting down redwood trees and sending the lumber to San Francisco after the great 1906 quake. Take a hike up Nisene Marks Park and look at the stumps of the huge trees that were cut down, also notice how they re-sprout around the base to form a small clump of 4-5 trees. (If you look you can see the springboard notches in the old trunks, see image below.) As a kid growing up in San Mateo in the early 60's we vacationed in 2 places, Santa Cruz and Graeagle Ca. And what an odd coincidence, both were influenced by the West family.
This great tree is native from the northern boarder along the California coastline down just south of Monterey. Rarely straying more than 20 miles from the coastal fog. Walk a pure stand of redwood and admire the density of the canopy and the lack of most any other plants.
They are huge trees. We do not have the huge trees they have up north so we see them maybe 75-100'. They have a narrow pyramidal habit with a spread of 15-30'. (Not at all a good tree selection for smaller urban areas.)
Foliage is of two types, though most people only see the one in the first 2 images. More common type, linear, 3/4 to 1" long, bright green upper surface, lighter green on the lower. Evidence of stomatal bands on lower surface. Tips sharply pointed. Appearing to be opposite on the twigs but radially arranged, the leaves bending to form a flattened plane. Retained on the twigs for 3-4 years and fall with the young twigs, remaining on the twig on the ground. Other type of leave is awl-shaped, 1/2" or less long, looking very much like the leaves on the Giant Sequoia (which was originally named Sequoia and also Wellingtonia) These are only found at the tips of older plants, and you may only see them after a storm.
Reproductive structures are small, greenish borne in the early spring. Males turn orangish yellow with pollen,
Females are green, with long bracts also at the ends of the branches.
For being such a big tree, they sure have small cones. Cones are reddish brown, oval shaped, 3/4" to 1" long. The scales are peltate (attached in the middle of the back) and look like the old wax lips we used to get at the candy store, the ones with the liquid in them.
The bark and trunks of the sequoia are truly amazing. Huge comes to mind. Full of life. The trunks are able to withstand fire and as we all know they are resistant to fungi for the most part. The bark is thick, fibrous, dark brown to cinnamon red. Pretty deeply furrowed with a lighter color on the top of the furrow.
If you go into Nisene Marks you will see old stumps with holes in them, they are the springboard notches that were axed into the trunks so the loggers could put in a board and then cut the tree above the widely faired base.
Redwoods develop a burl at the base of the tree that contains tons of vegetative buds. You may not always see them, on some trees they are more obvious than on others.
Below is an image of the shots coming from that burl that lack any chlorophyll so are totally white. This tree is located in SF Strybing Arboretum. I read an article sometime ago about the "ghosts" of the forest.
Commonly seen in our area include 'Soquel' which seems to have a poorly developed leader but never fails to grow strongly upright.
Okay, here is one you can have in your yard, from the SF Bonsai Club during the SF Garden Show.
Here is another from a later show. I focused on the trunk and base to show how to make the look really old.
Otherwise you may end up with these two from the Pruning Hall of Shame
Then there is always this…. growing through 2 levels of decks.
Misidentification: Not likely, look for the cones and the leaves falling as units.
If you want to see this and the Giant Sequoia side by side have a look at the intersection of Polo Dr. Lyon Dr, just east of the RDM overpass as it passes Soquel Dr. (You can also see Picea abies just one door up and across the street.)