Day 1: Redwood and Sequoia Forests

Question of the Day:

When did redwood trees first appear on earth?

Character of the Day:

Smolts: To manage the transition between freshwater and saltwater, salmon fry must go through a physical change known as smolting. Smolting begins in freshwater and sees the young salmon through the rivers and into the ocean when it is time. Smolts have a silvery coating over their scales to camouflage them from predators and shield their bodies from fresh to saltwater.

Key Concepts:

The sequoia and redwood tree family can be traced to the Triassic Period (200 million years ago!) when dinosaurs first appeared. They were the dominant tree in North America and Europe during the Jurassic Period (180 to 135 million years ago) and the Cretaceous Period (35 to 70 million years ago). Dinosaurs disappeared near the end of the Cretaceous Period but the trees lived on. The planet was significantly warmer and wetter during dinosaur times and the atmosphere was much richer in carbon dioxide. The earth was more fertile for plant and animal life in those days. The proof is found in the carbon deposits of coal beds and oil fields that formed during those times. Much of the carbon that was once in the atmosphere is now locked up in coal and oil deposits and is now unavailable for plant use. The ancestors of the giant sequoias were fed and watered by a rich and thriving earth.

At the end of the Cretaceous Period the earth began to cool and dry. The trees began to slowly retreat in favour of plant species more suitable to the dryer conditions. About 20 million years ago giant sequoias and redwoods became extinct in Europe but still survived in Western North America. The giant sequoias and redwoods were relegated what is now known as California about 2 million years ago. In the California only a few areas are suitable for the continued existence of the big trees. These areas have relatively deep soil and permanent moisture in the soil. The giant sequoia and redwood groves are fed moisture from streams, springs, and subsurface moisture coming down from higher ground.

It has been said that the giant sequoias are living dinosaurs. In truth they are far more than that. They originated earlier in time and outlived the dinosaurs by 70 million years. Today, thanks to its best friend, man, giant sequoias can be found growing in many places over the earth.

Redwoods and the Economy

How have past economic factors affected redwoods regions? In the second half of the 19th century, California's population and economy was booming which put an increased demand on forest products of redwood and Douglas fir, and tan oak bark for tannin used in San Francisco's leather tanneries. Little ports along the Mendocino and Humboldt coasts started constructing sawmills, towns, even narrow-gauge railroads to haul timber to mills and lumber to wharfs at ports like Usal, Needle Rock and Bear Harbor. A similar boom occurred after WWII. These old logging towns are no longer active, and while these booms took their toll on the redwoods and surrounding natural resources, nature is recovering in these areas as the Lost Coast is now set aside from development as a preserve.

The importance of setting aside areas of the nation for their natural beauty to be appreciated by all was emphasized by naturalists like John Muir, and thanks to their efforts we now have numerous national parks that are protected from human development. The National Park bill was passed in 1890 after Muir, the "Father of the National Parks," inspired the nation's leaders to preserve various natural areas through his writings.

Youth Ambassador/School Activity:

Tree growth in coastal rainforests is limited by the availability of the element nitrogen. Gardeners can tell you that fish fertilizer is a potent and effective way to increase the health and size of your garden plants, and the same goes for these trees. The fish left behind by the bears are packed with nitrogen, which fertilizes the trees and helps them grow to their impressive size. It sounds simple, yet the science behind it is almost as fascinating as the process itself.

Tree Hunt Go tree “hunting” and challenge children to find trees with different qualities. For example, find a tree that’s taller than a house, one smaller than a person, one with smooth bark, one with needles, one with leaves, one with something growing on it, etc. Select another tree and describe what you observe.

School Activity II: The Anatomy of a Giant

Students learn the basic anatomy of a redwood tree in the classroom. They then study the anatomy of a real redwood tree.

Plants such as redwood trees have different parts that have different functions.


  1. Students will increase their knowledge of tree anatomy.
  2. Students will increase their knowledge of tree physiology.
  3. Students will increase their ability to make and record accurate observations.


You already know that plants, including trees, have different parts. They have leaves, stems (trunks or boles), and roots. They may have flowers, or they may produce cones.

Each of those parts has parts, too. A leaf may have a blade and a stem. A flower may have petals and a variety of other parts. Even roots usually have microscopic "root hairs." If we look at the end of a log, or at a slice of a tree stem, we will see that even the stem of a tree has different parts.

In this activity, you will learn the names of some of the main parts of a redwood tree and what they do to help the tree live.


Part 1: At home or school:

  1. Your teacher will provide you with books or other materials that will help you identify the parts of the redwood tree on the diagrams. You might also use resources found on the Internet.
  2. As you find out the names of the parts, be sure to find out what they do for the tree (their function).
  3. Label the parts of the redwood tree diagrams.
  4. As you identify the parts, write their functions (jobs) in the spaces provided. A table has been provided for you.

Part 2: Someplace where you can see some actual coast redwood trees.

You have learned about the main parts of a redwood tree. You have also seen drawings of a "typical" redwood tree. Sometimes actual trees aren't exactly like the "typical" or idealized drawings that we see in books.

Look at actual redwood trees and note (in words and sketches) some ways in which they differ from the idealized drawings that you have seen in books.

Daily Dispatch:

The wise elders observed the soft footsteps of the strangers entering their lands. Their vantage point provided them with wisdom far beyond their years, having fought and survived many events, including the visits of many similar looking strangers over the centuries. For a fleeting instant, the strangers stood in this environment, taking in what is precious in the home of the elders. With a beckoning with their massive limbs, the visitors took their cue and walked with nervous feet further into this strange home. Soon they grew comfortable in their new confines, spreading out amongst the feet of the giants, chattering about as they did, running to and fro, running along the side of or through the a few of the fallen. Soon having tired, the strangers bowed and backed slowly out of this strange land, leaving inspired by what they observed, and eager to continue to other new lands and seas in their own journey.