777 CANDLES FOR THIS TREE
Muir Woods redwood half as old as believed
This is one of the few times 777 years old is actually considered young.
In a new study by Humboldt State University researchers, the tallest redwood tree in Muir Woods was determined to be about that age, or half the 1,500 years scientists originally believed.
The finding, initially reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, is the first time the towering Muir Woods trees have been dated — and the results were encouraging, said Emily Burns, science director with Save the Redwoods League.
The group is working with the university on a long-term study of the effects of climate change on redwoods and giant sequoias, the tallest and largest trees, respectively, on Earth.
The trees appear to be growing faster as they get older, despite climate change and, in the last few years, a sustained drought, Burns said.
Redwoods tend to grow in some of the wettest places in California, she said. Although the state sees little rain, the tallest forests are in areas blanketed in fog, rooted in wet soil or at the foot of snow runoffs.
By analyzing the trees’ rings, researchers developed a way to decode how the redwoods have been responding to environmental conditions, Burns said.
Scientists initially estimated Tree 76 — the tallest in Muir Woods, at nearly 250 feet — was about 1,500 years old, sprouting about the time of the King Arthur legend and the birth of the prophet Muhammad.
But in the current study, scientists pull pencil-thin core strips from the tree at various heights, study them and compare them with other trees. In doing so, they estimated that Tree 76 sprang up 777 years ago, give or take 34 years. That’s about the time of the last Crusades.
Tree 76 is on the southern side of the redwood forest, a thin coastal strip that stretches from Big Sur to southwest Oregon.
The oldest coastal redwood is 2,520 years old, and the oldest giant sequoia is about 3,200 years old, Burns said.
She could not say why the sample of trees examined at Muir Woods was substantially younger than ones farther north, but she said natural occurrences such as landslides or wildfires could have played a role in wiping out older generations.
SCIENTISTS ORIGINALLY estimated the tallest redwood in Muir Woods was 1,500 years old, but a new study shows the tree is about half that age.