- Education and Science
How Thirsty Redwoods Survive Rainless Months of the California Summer
Redwoods, found only on the Pacific coast, thrive in Northern California. There are two forests parks named in honor of them in this part of the state alone, Sequoia National Park and Redwood National Park. However, in the summer and early fall rain can become quite scarce for long periods of time. Droughts have become so common place in California water restrictions are enforced year-round as a precautionary measure. So how do these tress not only survive the droughts, but thrive and grow to be as immensely large and wide as they are?
Well, They're Kind of Geniuses
Redwood trees have a rather unique and ingenious solution to the water shortage problems that plague millions of Californians every year. They can utilize the fog. Fog is extremely commonplace in Northern California. Nearly every morning certain times of the year there is some amount of fog lingering around. On the San Francisco Bay it rolls in more often than not. And because fog is composed of water it can be of use to the trees.
As fog moves through a forest and comes in contact with the trees, it naturally will condensate on the trees. This happens to any type of tree. But the redwoods can make efficient use of it. They have long, needle-like leaves pointed or angled down towards the ground. This provides the perfect surface to catch water in the air and direct it down towards the roots of the tree in a precipitation-like manner.
Not only does this provide water for the trees, it provides water for the whole forest and the whole ecosystem. It can help alleviate water stresses to the local watershed and filter incoming water, keeping it fresh and clean.
This makes redwoods relatively drought tolerant as they have adapted to the local conditions and evolved with their environment. In order to have been in the world for almost 250 million years, you'd have to learn to go with the flow eventually.
Other Neat Things About These Awesome Trees
Not only can redwoods pull water out of thin air, they can also pull carbon dioxide out of thin air. Sure, so can every tree and plant as they photosynthesize. But none do it at the staggering rate of the redwood.
One redwood tree can take in and store almost 1000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This beats most any other tree by a long shot. That is the more than half the carbon an adult human will produce in their lifetime, assuming western world consumption trends of course. The reason for this feat of tree strength is the immense size and non-stop growth of the giants.
Which leads to my next neat thing about them, they are the tallest trees on Earth. Redwoods can commonly grow to well over 300 feet tall with a diameter of 8 to 20 feet! Stability can be an issue at such heights, and the redwoods don't have a very deep root system. What they do is spread their roots very wide, up to 50 feet, and interlock them with nearby trees. This creates a 'tight-knit' community and protects all the trees from strong winds.
My next neat thing about redwoods is how long they can live. The number is 2,000, yes 2,000 years. However, a vast majority of them today are around 150-200 years old. This is because they were prized for their high quality timber, and much of the forests were logged to build large West Coast cities like San Francisco.
But can their neat-ness stand up to the might of climate change?
Climate Change and the Redwoods
The redwoods are certainly resilient trees, but it is unclear if they can adapt to everything happening to them at once. Increased levels of carbon dioxide can be good for plants, allowing them with more of an essential part of photosynthesis. But warmer temperatures do not mean better growth. So carbon dioxide is two-fold. Furthermore, incidences of wildfires will increase given rises in temperature and decreases in precipitation. This is threat to the redwoods. They do contain natural chemicals they help them resist fire, along with the water in the trunk, but they can't withstand a full blaze.
The redwoods are also at risk from logging for use, human expansion, and invasive species. Everything coming at them at the same time may be too much for them. They are a vital of this ecosystem and an incredible beautiful organism that creates a stunning view and a serene forest to stroll through. They are only exist one place on Earth and they must be protected.
How to Help
In order to protect redwoods, they must be left alone. The soil shouldn't be disturbed, they should definitely not be cut down, and the forests should be protected and actively managed. Symbiotic species should also be protected and managed. Invasive and harmful species should be controlled and removed if possible. Buffers must be in place to protect the oldest parts of the forests.
Donating to local organizations committed to protecting redwood forests is one way to make a difference. Making a conscious effort to live sustainably and reduce your emissions is another, with monumentally great other benefits as well.