• Tall Trees
    Coast redwoods are the tallest trees in the world.

    Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

    Movie Magic
    Scenes for Return of the Jedi and The Lost World: Jurassic Park were shot in California's Redwoods National and State Parks. In The Lost World, the parks stand in for the fictional Isla Sorna, a tropical island where dinosaurs roam free. In Return of the Jedi, the parks stand in for the forest moon of Endor, where ewoks roam free.

    By Stuart Thornton

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    The Dyerville Giant fell to earth in 1991.

    The Dyerville Giant was a 113-meter (370-foot) coast redwood tree, taller than the Statue of Liberty, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California. The crash was so loud that people in the closest towns thought it was the noise of a big train accident. The redwood’s fall moved the earth so much that it registered on a nearby seismograph, a device scientists use to measure earthquakes.

    Dave Stockton, who runs the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association, remembers visiting the downed redwood the day after it fell. He walks alongside the tree past its base, where its unburied roots stick up from the ground like a giant antler, and points into the distance.

    “I found pieces of the redwood tree 400 feet away on the other side of the highway,” Stockton says. 

    The toppled Dyerville Giant is one of the many amazing trees that Stockton shows me while walking around the park one fall afternoon. Redwood trees are the tallest trees in the world, and the 21,448-hectare (53,000-acre) park is home to 130 trees that rise more than 107 meters (350 feet) into the air. 

    The park’s redwood trees are called coast redwoods, and their range stretches along the coast of California from Big Sur in the south to the Oregon border in the north. There are two other types of redwood trees in the world: China’s dawn redwood and California’s giant sequoia, a shorter, wider tree located in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains. The tallest coast redwood is in Redwood National Park, nicknamed the Hyperion Tree. The previous record-holder was the Stratosphere Tree, found in Redwoods State Park.

    Rockefeller Forest

    One of Humboldt Redwoods State Park’s finest features is the 2,833-hectare (7,000-acre) Rockefeller Forest, a collection of redwoods that were never cut down by the area’s logging companies. Before Stockton and I begin walking the 1.1-kilometer (0.7-mile) Rockefeller Loop Trail through the forest, we look at the giant trees, whose twisted bark makes the redwoods look like oversized strands of braided rope.

    “That’s considered the finest grove of redwoods that ever grew,” Stockton says.

    Stockton says the Rockefeller Forest is widely known for having trees of all ages. There are “dog hairs,” young, thin redwood trees that cover the ground in patches. Older redwoods have so-called goose pens, which are burnt-out caverns in the base of the trees that are as big as playhouses. Oldest of all are the decaying stumps that stick out from the earth like giant teeth.

    “It’s like it was a million years ago,” Stockton says of the forest.

    Stockton says redwood trees grow and thrive within the park for several reasons. The trees like the area’s mild temperatures and coastal fog. (The trees collect moisture from fog.) Floods from the Eel River, which flows through the park, have also helped create ideal conditions for redwoods. “This is the richest soil in the state—by far,” Stockton says.

    Some of the redwood trees in the Rockefeller Forest are covered with spider webs that almost look like beards. This is appropriate because the redwoods here are very old. While the average redwoods in Rockefeller Forest are estimated to be 600 to 800 years old, other redwood trees in Rockefeller are up to 2,000 years old. Redwoods are able to grow to such impressive ages because of high amounts of tannin, a compound that keeps insects away, and low amounts of resin, which helps the trees survive forest fires.

    Threats to Redwoods

    Stockton believes the greatest natural danger to redwood trees is high wind. Even though redwoods can grow hundreds of feet into the sky, the giant trees have a shallow root system, which grows less than 3 meters (12 feet) into the ground. In a windstorm, the redwoods can sway dramatically. “If you want your heart in your throat, you should come here when the wind is blowing,” Stockton says.

    Humans have long prized the wood of redwood trees because of its rich color and ability to resist rotting. Native Americans built canoes and sweathouses out of the tree trunks and used the roots of the trees to make baskets. In the 1850s, loggers harvested redwoods for buildings and railroad ties, among other things.

    Even though large sections of Northern California’s redwood forests have been cut down by loggers, regions like Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park have preserved the majestic stands of trees.


    The forests are important to the many plant and animal species that consider the redwood forests home. Bats frequently live within redwood trunks that have been hollowed out by fire. The endangered marbled murrelet, a small seabird, builds its nests on the wide branches of redwood trees.

    Stockton says that when a redwood falls, the number of species taking up residence on the trees doubles. The fallen tree has more contact with the ground and allows more animals and plants access to water that is stored within it. Stockton notes that downed redwoods frequently host a large number of insects and create dens for animals, including skunks and foxes.

    As we head back to the parking lot, the Rockefeller Loop Trail passes through a section of forest called Cathedral Grove, which features the most imposing redwoods of the hike. Sunlight filters down through redwood branches as Stockton, who grew up in a logging family, describes what he finds most impressive about redwood forests.

    “It’s so quiet,” he says. “It’s deafening.”

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    antler Noun

    horn-like bony outgrowth on deer and related animals.

    appropriate Adjective


    bark Noun

    typically hard, outer covering of a tree.

    bat Noun

    flying mammal.

    canoe noun, verb

    small, open boat with pointed ends.

    cavern Noun

    large cave.

    coast redwood Noun

    tallest tree species on Earth.

    dawn redwood Noun

    tree native to China.

    deafening Adjective

    very loud.

    dog hair Noun

    group of small, young redwood trees.

    downed Adjective

    fallen or crashed.

    Dyerville Giant Noun

    coast redwood tree in the U.S. state of California which fell in 1991.

    earth Noun

    soil or dirt.

    earthquake Noun

    the sudden shaking of Earth's crust caused by the release of energy along fault lines or from volcanic activity.

    enthusiast Noun

    a fan or supporter.

    filter Verb

    to remove particles from a substance by passing the substance through a screen or other material that catches larger particles and lets the rest of the substance pass through.

    fog Noun

    clouds at ground level.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fog
    fox Noun

    type of mammal related to a dog with a thin muzzle and thick tail.

    giant sequoia Noun

    largest species of tree on Earth.

    goose pen Noun

    large hollow area in the base of a tree.

    imposing Adjective

    large or very impressive.

    impressive Adjective

    admirable or very memorable.

    insect Noun

    type of animal that breathes air and has a body divided into three segments, with six legs and usually wings.

    logging Noun

    industry engaged in cutting down trees and moving the wood to sawmills.

    majestic Adjective

    very impressive and formal.

    preserve Verb

    to maintain and keep safe from damage.

    railroad tie Noun

    flat piece of wood that supports the metal track of a railroad.

    resin Noun

    clear, sticky substance produced by some plants.

    root Noun

    part of a plant that secures it in the soil, obtains water and nutrients, and often stores food made by leaves.

    root system Noun

    all of a plant's roots.

    seabird Noun

    bird native to an aquatic environment.

    seismograph Noun

    instrument that detects and records vibrations caused by seismic shock waves.

    shallow Adjective

    not deep.

    skunk Noun

    mammal native to North America known for emitting a foul odor when attacked or threatened.

    soil Noun

    top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

    species Noun

    group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.

    spider web Noun

    structure made from thin, sticky material spun by spiders and originating from their bodies.

    Statue of Liberty Noun

    (1886) large sculpture in New York Harbor of a woman holding a torch, designed by French sculptor F.A. Bartholdi.

    sweathouse Noun

    structure used by some Native American cultures wherein water is poured over heated stones, causing people in the structure to sweat. Also called a sweat lodge.

    tannin Noun

    chemical substance found in plants.

    thrive Verb

    to develop and be successful.

    wind Noun

    movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.

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