Keys Homes
Sunday, April 8, 2012
More than distance separates redwood forests from Gulf Stream waters

By ROBIN ROBINSON Key West Garden Club

"I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it," wrote the late John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist and wilderness preservation advocate.

A continent and an ecosystem divide Key West from Muir Woods. The dry, sunny, windswept Keys contrast San Francisco's foggy, soggy, damp woods.

The blue streak that skimmed the branches of the immense redwood was just a flash, but it was enough to recognize it as a Steller's bluejay, one of the hundreds of animals that inhabit the Muir Woods ecosystem in Merin County, Calif.

This ancient redwood forest is often drenched in morning fog and mist and provides a habitat for plants that have adapted to low light and wet soils. Redwoods more than 600 years old line the paths through the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve. The Redwood Creek cuts through a ravine and winds its way to the ocean at Muir Beach. In the rainy winter season, its overflowing banks allow threatened steelhead trout and coho salmon to swim up the river from the ocean and spawn.

Redwoodlike trees covered much of North America 150 million years ago. Climate change shrank their range to a 500-mile strip up the western coast of the country. Unlike many other locations, the redwood, Sequioia sempervirens, in this canyon were never cut. (Remember all of the redwood furniture of the 1950's.)

The tallest redwood is more than 2,000 years old, 379 feet high and has a diameter of 22 feet at breast height. The 12-inch-thick bark protects the tree from damage caused by naturally occurring periodic forest fires. The bark and the wood are colored red because of the high tannin concentration that protects the tree from fire as well as insects and fungi. Most of the mature trees in Muir Woods are 500 to 800 years old.

The roots of the redwood are only about 12 feet deep, but they can spread to over a hundred feet in width. They are fed by the mist and fog that hangs in the morning light.

Redwoods multiply by dropping viable ¬½-inch cones in the winter. Each cone has as many as 60 tiny, flaky seeds. If these seeds get through the mulch to the soil, they sprout and can grow 2 to 3 inches in the first year.

Redwoods often sprout from burls on the tree, fusing the two trees together at the base. This extra competitiveness in propagation assures the redwood an advantage. If a tree is damaged or dying, circles of new trees sprout from the roots of the dying tree. These are the forest's fairy circles.

William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth Thatcher Kent, purchased 611 acres of untouched redwood forest in 1905 and donated 295 acres to the federal government. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument and wanted to dedicate it to Kent, who demurred and asked that it be named after Muir, his friend and botanist.

Muir thanked Kent by saying, "This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world. You have done me great honor, and I am proud of it."

The forest is a lasting legacy from three of our first tree huggers. Californians love them so much that they have disguised their satellite transmission towers by making them look like giant redwood trees.

Garden notes

• Mark your calendars for the Fertilizer Party the Key West Garden Club at 9 a.m. April 16.

• The Key West Garden Club welcomes volunteers to pull weeds, learn to propagate plants and play in the sandy soil at the West Martello Tower from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays.

Key West Garden Club Master Gardener Robin Robinson was a columnist at the Chicago Daily News and syndicated with Princeton Features. Her books,. "Plants of Paradise" and "Roots, Rocks and Rain: Native Trees of the Florida Keys," can be found at the Key West Garden Club and on Visit for more information. This column is part of a series developed by the Key West Garden Club. Visit for more information.

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