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Grades 9-12: What's The Tallest Thing You've Ever Seen?

Grades 9-12: What's The Tallest Thing You've Ever Seen?

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Published by: California State Parks on Jul 12, 2010
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10/25/2012

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What’s the
 Tallest Thing
 You’ve Ever Seen?
GRADES
9-12
Coast Redwood
Redwoods
®
 
Where Are Coast Redwoods Found?
Coast redwood forests are very rare and grow naturally only in a narrow 450-milestrip along the Pacic Ocean from central California to southern Oregon. Morethan tall trees, a redwood forest is a complex set of
ecosystems
 
made up ofan astounding variety of living and once-living things.
How Old Are They?
Individual coast redwood trees can live for hundreds of years. In some areasof their range, they can live more than 2,000 years. The oldest known coastredwood tree was 2,200 years old.
How Do Redwoods Reproduce?
Redwoods are
conifers
, which means they have cones and needle-likeleaves. A coast redwood cone is about 1 inch long and contains 14 to 24 tinyseeds about the size of a tomato seed. A single tree may produce millions ofseeds in a year. Only a small percentage of the seeds actually germinate andgrow into seedlings.Although coast redwoods can grow from seeds, they more commonly reproducefrom sprouts. New trees can sprout from the roots of parent trees, from budsat the base of a tree or from a fallen tree. If a tree is cut or burned, a circle oftrees may sprout from the stump, forming a “fairy ring” of new trees.
Where Have Redwood Fossils Been Found?
Redwood trees are true “living fossils.” As a
genus
, redwoods have existedseemingly unchanged for millions of years. Redwood fossils older than 144million years have been found throughout the western United States andCanada and along the coasts of Europe and Asia. Close ancestors of thecoast redwood were living when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.Coast redwoods prefer mild year-round temperatures with winter rain andheavy fog, a
climate
that was more common in earlier ages. The last iceage limited coast redwoods to their present range along the coast of northernCalifornia and southwestern Oregon.
How would it measure up to a coast redwood tree?The coast redwood
(Sequoia sempervirens) 
is theworld’s tallest tree
species
and among theoldest living things.
10-Story BuildingCoast RedwoodGiant SequoiaApple Tree
Mature coast redwood trees often reach more than320 feet tall and many of the tallest known treesare more than 360 feet high. Coast redwoods canreach these heights because they are very resistantto disease and insects. The wood has a high levelof tannic acid, which is toxic to most insects. Thesefascinating trees are named for the beautiful redcolor of their bark and heartwood.
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Coast Redwood
CaliforniaPacic OceanOregonCoastRedwoodRange
 
How’s the Weather
Imagine standing at the base of a coast redwood tree. If youcrane your neck and look up, you will just see the lowest branchessome 10 stories above you. If you peer even higher up, throughthe distant branches and needles, you will hardly see the top ofthe tree, which can be higher than a 37-story building. Just howcan a coast redwood get so tall?Trees continue to grow as long as they liveand coast redwoodscan live more than 2,000 years. However, age alone cannotfully explain the redwoods’ vast height because they are not theoldest trees in the world. Some bristlecone pines in the WhiteMountains of California are more than 4,500 years old butusually only grow to about 60 feet.The coast redwoods’ environment plays a large part in whythey grow so tall. These trees live where the soil is very rich innutrients, where they are mostly protected from winds and wherethey receive lots of winter rain and summer fog. These conditionsallow them to thrive and grow to great heights.Scientists now think that fog may be a critical reason for coastredwoods being so tall. Where the trees live, winters are veryrainy, but there is very little rain the rest of the year. Duringthe summer, however, a thick fog usually blankets the region.Redwood trees are able to intercept this dense fog in theircrowns, where it
condenses
on their leaves.The trees use this fog in a number of different ways. First, thefog reduces the amount of water that the trees need becausethey lose less water through their leaves when it is foggy. Second,the trees can absorb the fog directly through the leaves, which isan especially important source of water for young trees. Finally,the condensed fog drips to the ground below the trees, where itsoaks in for later use.With summer fog and winter rain, redwoods have water all year-roundthis may be the most important reason for their greatheight.
It’s in the Genes
Redwoods have more
chromosomes
thanmost other cone-bearing trees, a fact that alsomay help them grow tall. Chromosomes arethe part of the cell that carries genes. Conifersusually have 20 to 24 chromosomes, butredwoods have 66 or more. That is becauseredwoods have six copies of each chromosome,while most conifers have two copies of each.How does the number of chromosomes helpthe redwoods grow? With six copies of eachchromosome, a single tree can have severalalternative forms of a gene. For example,a tree may have two or even three differentgene codes for an enzyme that helps the treeght a certain disease. This means that if apest or disease tries to attack the tree, thetree has a greater chance to protect itself. Thehealthier the tree, the more likely it is to grow.
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