Friday, October 17, 2008

The Trees of the Muir Woods National Monument

Visitors to the West often confuse the redwood of the coast with the giant sequoia of the Sierra. Both belong to the genus Sequoia, but are separate species of the genus. The species growing in Muir Woods National Monument is the Sequoia sempervirens, commonly called redwood.
Redwoods grow in this coastal region, which extends from about 125 miles south of San Francisco to the southwest corner of Oregon. A representative of this species, The Founders Tree, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, is 364 feet high, the tallest living thing on earth. Its largest diameter is about 20 feet. The coast redwood is known to exceed 2,000 years in age.
The species growing in the Sierra is the Sequoia gigantean, commonly known as the giant sequoia. Trees of this species are found in the Sierra Nevada at altitudes between 4000 and 8000 feet. They attain diameters of nearly 35 feet, but average considerably less in height than the coast redwood. Many of the giant sequoias exceed 3000 years in age. Magnificent groves of giant sequoias are to be found in Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks.
In Muir Woods, the charred stumps and deep scars in the living trees resulted from periodic fires, the last of which occurred between 150 and 200 years ago. Circles of large trees which sprouted from the roots of the fire-killed or fire-scarred trees now surround these old veterans.
The tall stately grandeur of the redwood is always tremendously impressive. Other important tree species represented in the monument include Douglas fir, California laurel, tanoak, alder and buckeye woods are lumpy growths that range in size from very small to huge ones several feet in diameter. Large root burls look like boulders at the bases of trees, while smaller burls are seen in a variety of shapes and size on the trunks, generally near the base. In addition to the trees already named, there is an abundance of other plant growth both large and small. The most interesting are the ferns – the profuse swordfern, the ladyfern, the bracken, the woodwardia, and other beautiful species.
Muir Woods is too shady to encourage wildflowers in such quantities as are found on the more open surrounding hillsides. However, a large variety is found here in limited numbers. The flowering season begins as early as February. Most plentiful are the adder’s tongue, the trillium, and the clintonia. Azalea, a tall shrub along the creek, blossoms beautifully through June and July and fills the air with its fine fragrance. The blooming of this plant signals the end of the flower season. Oxalis is abundant at the base of many redwoods but only a limited percentage of these plants bear flowers.
Planning a trip to Muir Woods National Park this year? Buy your tickets online with