Approximately 100 miles separates two remarkable Coast Redwoods that seem to be polar opposites on the botanical scale. The first sports a massive burl at its base, while the second exhibits uncanny paper-thin bark unseen before within the species.
Ridgway Burl Giant:
Planted in Santa Rosa California around the time of the 1915 World’s Fair, the Ridgway Burl Giant most likely made its humble beginnings during the reconstruction period following the 1906 earthquake. Located within the Ridgway Historic District of the city, the tree sports the largest burl known for a Coast Redwood growing in the urban landscape. Bulbous in appearance like a giant onion, the tree’s burl was measured in 2019 at an impressive 11 feet in diameter. What’s remarkable is the tree quickly tapers down to a modest 3 ½ feet in diameter only 30 feet up from the base, thus giving the tree its unusual appearance. Above this point, the tree tops out at a modest 117 feet in height.
According to the Ridgway Burl Giant’s owner, the redwood is approximately 105 years old. When calculating the wood expansion from the tree’s center within that time frame, the radial growth (all things assumed being equal) equated to 66 inches (167.6 cm) from the tree’s center. This equals an average of 5/8 inch (1.6 cm) of annual tree ring growth. This rate of wood accumulation is not uncommon for coast redwoods in a regenerative forest but exceptional for a tree growing in the urban environment.
As you can see from these pictures, the massive burl is taking over the yard in front of this quaint little cottage. One could assume that genetics are the reasons for this impressive growth or possibly an environmental factor may be lending to its unusual appearance. For now, the mystery remains for this stately tree on Ridgway Avenue.
Grey Bark Redwood:
For our next tree, you may want to put aside any previous thoughts of what a Coast Redwood is supposed to look like. Unlike the Ridgway Burl Giant, this tree heads in the opposite direction when it comes to amazing growth. Instead of living up to the species reputation for size & height, this redwood has remained incredibly small. If scientists could cross a Sitka Spruce with a Coast Redwood this tree might be the odd result.
Known simply as the Grey Bark Redwood by Sacramento area arborists, this dwarf Coast Redwood is the sole representative known within the species. Standing approximately 32 feet in height exhibiting a weeping top, this tree’s features are so unusual that it would be easy to misidentify even by an expert. The redwood’s bark is the most striking attribute when first approached. It’s incredibly thin and smooth in appearance, exhibiting strange whirls and checkered-like patterns. This uncharacteristic look is in contrast to normal Coast Redwoods that exhibit stringy, soft, &, verticality-aligned ridges within their bark. It’s only after a closer inspection of the tree’s foliage that one can tell is truly a Coast Redwood by the alternate needle arrangement. For those of you wondering if this could be a Dawn Redwood, that species exhibits an opposite needle arrangement and is deciduous, unlike their coastal cousins.
According to historical records, the Gray Bark Redwood was planted around 1965 and is approximately 54 years old as of this writing (2019). Within that time frame, the tree has grown just a mere 11.5 inches in diameter. This is far below what would be considered average for a tree living for more than five decades. When calculating the average growth from the tree’s center within that time frame, the radial expansion (all things assumed being equal) equated to just 5.75 inches (14.6 cm) of growth from the tree’s center. This equaled just 53/500 of an inch (2.70 mm) of annual ring growth. To put this in perspective, the wood accumulation on this tree is so slow that each year the tree’s rings add the thickness equivalent of just two dimes. With that said, the wood is assumed to be incredibly dense.
Some of the reasons proposed for the tree’s unusual growth is a combination of genetics and the tree’s environment. There’s a possibility that a nutrient deficiency may be at play in its unusual growth. For now, this small coast redwood is another example of how amazing and versatile the Sequoia sempervirens tree species is.