Welcome to the Founders Grove

This is a self-guided tour through an old-growth coast redwood grove.

Each stop on the trail explains some aspect of the ecology of the coast redwood forest.

[Stop #1 - The Founders Tree]
[Stop #2 - Ancient Forests]
[Stop #3 - Relic Redwoods]
[Stop #4 - Climate]
[Stop #5 - Nurse Logs and Decaying Giants]
[Stop #6 - The Unseen World Overhead]
[Stop #7 - Fallen Giants and Forest Openings]
[Stop #8 - The Dyerville Giant]
[Stop #9 - Strong Survivors]
[Stop #10 - Sequoia sempervirens]
[Stop #11 - The Unseen World at Your Feet]
[Stop #12 - Ancient Forest Mysteries]

Stop #1

The Founders Tree

The Founders Grove needs your help to preserve its beauty. Undisturbed downed trees serve a vital role in the life of this forest. This park is a fully protected natural area.
The Founders Grove is dedicated to the founders of the Save-the-Redwoods League. In 1917, several prominent men traveled to Humboldt and Del Norte Counties to view these magnificent redwood groves. When they found these trees were not protected, they formed the Save-the-Redwoods League to preserve representative areas of primeval forests. By 1921, the first grove was purchased by the League in what is now Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Since then, the League has contributed over $57 million to protect 170,000 acres of redwood land in the 35 California State Parks, Redwood National Park, and Sequoia National Park.
Memorial and Honor groves are available for designation by donors. For more information contact:

Save-the-Redwoods League
114 Sansome Street, Room 605
San Francisco, CA 94104

Or, visit their web site at http://www.savetheredwoods.org. This is not a California Department of Parks and Recreation page. Use your Back button to return here.

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Stop #2

Ancient Forests

Take a moment at the bench to sit and look about you. Sense the atmosphere of grandeur in an ancient, or old growth, forest.
The greatest accumulation of plant mass ever recorded on earth was a redwood stand in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This forest has seven times the biomass (living and dead organic material) found in a tropical rainforest.
Everything you see around you has an interconnecting role with the rest of the forest, from the huge trees to the smallest decaying plant material.
The terms "Ancient Forest", "Old Growth Forest" and "All-aged Forest" have been used synonymously. An ancient forest describes a forest that has the following characteristics:

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Stop #3

Relic Redwoods

Walking into this forest is comparable to stepping back in time.
Fossil records show redwoods grew naturally in many places across the Northern Hemisphere. Due to climatic changes and other factors, coast redwoods now grow naturally only in a narrow 40 mile wide and 450 mile long coastal strip from southern Oregon to southern Monterey County in California.
The more we study these ancient redwood forests, the more we realize the diversity of life forms within these forests is absolutely essential to the forest's overall health.
The large redwood near post #3 is an old growth tree that has been through many fires, a natural occurrence throughout the centuries. Even though it appears to be heavily fire damaged, it continues to live.

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Stop #4


Redwoods are so immense that they live in three climatic zones at once. The base of each tree is in one set of climatic conditions, the stem in another, and the crown is in a third.
You have been walking in a semi-shaded moist environment. Look up into the uppermost branches of the trees. These trees can be experiencing cool moist conditions at their base, and at the same time have dry, windy conditions at their tops.
Look for two types of redwood needles on the forest floor. Needles growing on most of the trees branches are broad and flat so they catch more available sunlight. However, needles near the top have tight scale-like spikes which reduces evaporative surfaces for the drier conditions found there.
Redwoods need great amounts of moisture. The 65 inches of rainfall average per year, plus summer fog, moderate the climate. Redwoods help create their own microclimate through transpiration of moisture from leaves into the atmosphere. A very large redwood can release up to 500 gallons of water into the air per day.
The sword fern and the lady fern are the two most common ferns found in this grove.

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Stop #5

Nurse Logs and Decaying Giants

The death of a tree is the birth of a log or a snag. Dead trees are essential to the health of a forest and they are the basis of its astonishing productivity. Fallen trees are a substantial reservoir of organic matter and water that other plants and trees depend upon.
The nutrients the forest needs are not only in the soil but also in the living and dead plant material itself. As trees and plants die and decay, that are recycled to the living forest. With this highly efficient system, the forest feeds itself, wasting nothing.
As a tree slowly decays, it becomes a nursery for plants. It may take 400 years or longer to become incorporated into the forest floor. During this time, a variety of shrubs and trees have the opportunity to develop part or all of their root systems within the decaying wood.
It has been estimated there are 1700 species of plants and animals that depend on a tree during its life span. There are over 600 living on a snag, but over 4000 species living in or on a downed log.

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Stop #6

The Unseen World Overhead

An entirely different world exists in the crowns of these tall trees.

The marbled murrelet, a robin-sized ocean bird, nests mostly in old growth trees. These old trees have large limbs, thick lichens and mosses which the birds will use for nesting. These secretive birds are rarely seen because they fly out to the ocean at daybreak and return near dusk.
Flying squirrels may be abundant in the redwoods, but are seldom seen because they are nocturnal and their nests are high in trees. There are plants and animals that may spend their entire life in the forest canopy. As scientists study forest canopies, new discoveries may reveal plants and animals that were unknown before. For example, there may be populations of rodents and insects that live their entire lives without ever coming to the ground.
The uppermost canopy layer is the powerhouse of these forests. A large percentage of photosynthesis (the process where plants convert sunlight to food) takes place at this level.

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Stop #7

Fallen Giants and Forest Openings

As these trees get older, some can no longer withstand winds and rain. These trees give up their spot in the sun and fall to the forest floor.
This tree fell in March, 1991. Over the years, large trees have fallen in this area, creating an opening in the forest canopy. Windthrow (the blowing over of trees) is a leading cause of coast redwood death. A transformation is occurring as mature trees give way to young trees. These young trees have remained almost dormant in the shadows of the giants for many years waiting for their chance in the sun. In larger openings, trees and plants requiring more sunlight are able to grow. Eventually, the young redwoods grow high enough that the forest canopy is again dominated by redwoods. This whole process is called plant succession.

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Stop #8

The Dyerville Giant

The Dyerville Giant, which stood here perhaps as long as 1600 years, was taller, larger, and older than any other tree around it. It seemed to be of another age. Very few of these ancient relics still remain.
The Dyerville Giant was recognized as the "Champion" Coast Redwood as certified by the American Forestry Association until it fell on March 24, 1991. Before it fell, it was at least 362 feet tall (estimates from two different sources measured it at 370 feet after it fell). That is 200 feet taller than Niagara Falls or comparable to a 30 story building. It is also 17 feet in diameter, 52 feet in circumference and probably weighs over 1,000,000 pounds.
The events that caused the Giant to fall are common in ancient redwood forests. During the rainy season the soil became saturated with water. Another large tree (seen back at stop #7) fell one week earlier, hitting a second tree causing it to lean. A week later the leaning tree fell, striking the Dyerville Giant, causing it to fall. No one actually saw the Giant fall, but a park neighbor, who lives a mile away, reported hearing a large crash and thought it was a train wreck! A tree over 50 feet away had mud splattered 15 feet up its trunk from the impact of the Giant hitting the ground. Unless fire consumes it, the Dyerville Giant will continue to lie here on the forest floor for many hundreds of years, fulfilling an important role in the healthy life of an ancient forest. As the decay process gains a hold on the Giant, it will become the host, home, and food source to over 4000 kinds of plants and animals that will live on or in it.
There is a burl located 100 feet from the roots along the main trunk of the Giant. This knobby bump is a cluster of dormant buds, which can grow shoots for a period of time.
Redwood roots grow only a few feet down into the soil, but they can grow laterally a hundred feet or more. They also can intertwine and graft on to one another, thus helping to hold each other up.
It is interesting to see the progression of plants growing in the mineral soil pit created by the Giant's fall. One of the first plants to appear was the redwood sorrel, which looks like clover. It is associated with redwoods growing in alluvial flood plains such as is found here in this grove.

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Stop #9

Strong Survivors

Redwoods are among the oldest living things. A tree near here was found to be over 2200 years old, the oldest recorded coast redwood.
This grove is in the Eel River floodplain. The trees here are considered to be the finest specimens due to the optimum growing conditions. The rich soil and abundance of water allows them to grow and dominate the canopy. Pure stands of redwoods, such as this, occupy about two percent of the existing redwood forests.
Redwoods live a long time because they have very few enemies. Fire is one of the major threats to all trees. However, only the greatest conflagrations can kill mature redwoods because of their thick fire resistant bark and lack of resin. Many of the older trees along this walk are fire scarred.
This ancient forest has been through many floods. The silt brought in is rich in nutrients. Redwood roots can grow vertically up to the new silt level, thus bringing new nutrients and oxygen to the trees.
Redwoods have a large amount of tannin, a material that insects find particularly distasteful. While insects cause a considerable amount of mortality in other trees, redwoods are rarely bothered.

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Stop #10

Sequoia sempervirens

Sequoia sempervirens, the scientific name for coast redwood, loosely translates to "ever living".
It's estimated that a single old-growth redwood is capable of producing 100,000 cones per year. Each cone can have 90-120 seeds. So a single tree could produce 10,000,000 seeds in a single year! However 90 percent will not be fertile due to fungal attacks. Of the remaining 10 percent, most will die unless they find near-perfect conditions to germinate. Coast redwoods have another method of regeneration. They are able to sprout from root collar burls at the base of the tree. By doing this, they use the mature root system of the parent tree for nutrients and stability. These trees can eventually grow to maturity, even after the parent tree has died and fallen to the forest floor. After these trees reach maturity, they have burl sprouts and the process continues. Thus a parent tree gives the genetic code to many generations.
This tree has many burl sprouts growing from the base. One has grown to 6 inches in diameter and is 30 feet tall. Eventually, most sprouts will die, leaving only the most hardy. You may have noticed several trees growing in a circle around an open area. This phenomenon, called a "fairy ring," is caused by the parent tree dying and decaying, leaving the sprouts that have grown into mature trees.

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Stop #11

The Unseen World at Your Feet

There is another community at our feet and below the soil's surface.

A living redwood tree, or any other plant depends on the decaying plant and animal material around it. Without this material, the nutritional value in the forest eventually would be depleted.
As many as 700 species are constantly feeding opportunistically on any plant or animal material they come in contact with in the soil. If you sit quietly, it would not be long before you would see something fall from the canopy. Litterfall, made up of lichens, leaves, branches, pollens, cones, webs, droppings, etc., steadily falls to the forest floor. It will be attacked by fungi and bacteria. Animals such as termites, beetles, millipedes, centipedes, and rodents. will also start to break down this material. They in turn will become prey for other animals as the struggle to live and reproduce goes on at many levels of this complex system.
After this litterfall decays into essential nutrients, it will be taken back up by tree roots and returned to the canopy, continuing the cycle of life. Never can one event happen within the forest without it affecting the other parts of the forest.
The simple act of walking through an undisturbed area will change it.

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Stop #12

Ancient Forest Mysteries

The more we study these forests, the more we realize we are just beginning to understand a small part of their dynamics.
We still don't know all the plants and animals that live here. The Pacific Yew (not found at this location), long considered a weed by loggers, was recently found to give major hope in the treatment of cancer. How many other plants or animals that live in these ancient forests have an unknown potential?
The California State Park System is dedicated to preserving these ancient forests so they are available for visitors to enjoy. We are fortunate that the Save-the-Redwoods League and the people of California helped preserve these beautiful natural areas.

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The Staff at Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association hope you have enjoyed your walk through this ancient forest.

Send any comments and questions to:

Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association
P.O. Box 276
Weott, CA 95571

Text by Ron Jones.

Please come visit us soon.

You may contact us at: hrsp@northcoast.com.

Return to Humboldt Redwoods State Park Home Page.

Revised: 15 October 1996
Copyright © 1996; Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association