Thursday, 04 April 2019 20:19

Redwood Extremes in the Urban Environment

Written by
Rate this item
(3 votes)

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.

burl 1aRidgway 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.

 burl 4a

 burl 3a


burl 5a

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: Grey Redwood 1a

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.

Grey Redwood 2a


Grey Redwood 3a


Grey Redwood 4a


Grey Redwood 5a


Grey Redwood 6a

 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.

Read 2509 times Last modified on Wednesday, 21 April 2021 10:15

1 comment

  • Comment Link Connie Barlow Saturday, 29 February 2020 17:01 posted by Connie Barlow

    Tom - I'm the founder of Torreya Guardians (same genus as your "California Nutmeg", but endangered in FL and GA), so when I looked at the photos of the Grey Bark redwood, the origin seemed obvious: somebody planted a rooted branchlet. When we do that to Torreya trees, then the growth form is never a tree but a shrub, and the reproductive organs take on the gender of the branch (which, unlike seed grown mature trees, will never produce organs of both sexes). Also, because I examined a giant fallen redwood branch last fall in Prairie Creek State Park and found beetle exit holes, I now see how both Sequoia and Sequoiadendron eventually will fall to climate change: bark beetles (Phleosinus) cannot penetrate the thick bark of trunks but the big branches have bark as thin as Pacific Yew, so it takes longer for beetles to kill a drought-stressed redwood than a pine or spruce. Have you seen fallen branches with exit holes too? Also take a look at my urban Sequoia / Sequoiadendron video documentation series of Pac NW, and also please give me the email of Brad Buttram, so I can learn about his experience with these genera in Portland. Here is my redwood video series: And here is the Torreya Guardians assisted migration website:

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.