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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sequoia sempervirens - Coast Redwood

While taking my class on a walk this week I wanted to show them how easy it is to identify trees from a distance so we looked over the tops of the building and tried to ID what we saw. I realized two things, one, it takes time to learn plant habits and two, knowing about 10 trees and you can ID most of the large trees in our area.

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.)

When young the lateral branches are mostly upright but with age they become more horizontal. There is a tremendous variation of growth rates, size and crown appearance from seed grown plants. Non selected trees, ie not a cultivar can be extremely variable as seen in this image, they can be full, open with long upright arching laterals or just plain ... plain.

This group of trees in located in the development behind Aptos Park on the road to Nicene Marks. Look how they dwarf all other trees and the 2 story condos. (Think again before planting one in your yard, especially under the telephone wires)

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.

This is the other foliage type, more awl-shaped and maybe what lead the early taxonomist to think that Sequoia and Sequoiadendron should be in the same genus.

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.

Most of the trees planted over the last 20 or so years are cutting grown and are named cultivars. Have a look at the uniformity of the trees around the industrial park off Santa's Village Dr in Scotts Valley.

There are a number of common cultivars, most of them released by the old Saratoga Horticultural Foundation.

Commonly seen in our area include 'Soquel' which seems to have a poorly developed leader but never fails to grow strongly upright.

 'Aptos Blue'

Can't resist showing this blue cultivar 'Woodside' in a friends yard. Notice how blue it is compared to the native ones behind. Its the blue tree in the center behind an very formal blue fir tree.

This one is much more rare in the landscape, 'Loma Prieta Spire' seen on Old San Jose highway just past the blue ball park in Soquel.

If you must plant one in your yard pick one of the named cultivars so you have a guaranteed habit and color. (I know, I know, monoculture, bad for plants, bad for the environment, but in this case there are enough low quality native trees around to make up for the diversity). But if you must be sure you understand the issues. When they fall or parts of them fall you will not like the results.

The new freeway planting along highway 1 and  highway 17 is planted with a mixture of commonly used cultivars and a collection made by two California native plant fans from "exceptional" trees in our local area. (see the article)

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.

The name Sequoia is Cherokee and means "possum" and was a common name for half-breed. The tree was named in honor of a man named Sequoiah, the son of a European trader and a Cherokee woman. He developed the Cherokee symbols for their language. (Arthur Lee Jacobson, North American Trees).

Misidentification: Not likely, look for the cones and the leaves falling as units.

Locations; Everywhere
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.)

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