Muir Woods red­wood half as old as be­lieved

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Joseph Serna joseph.serna@la­times.com For break­ing Cal­i­for­nia news, fol­low @JosephSerna

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.

Michael Ma­cor As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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