On a recent trip to the Henry Cowell State Park, I interviewed State Park Interpreter Daniel Williford on the trees and environment of the forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“Redwoods are the superheroes of the plant world,” says Williford. “They can battle fires, high winds and floods quite successfully. Their roots spread out laterally and they hold on to each other…they are the tallest trees in the world, yet their cone is the size of an olive and a seed the size of a flake of oatmeal.” Williford took me for a hike along Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park’s Redwood Loop Trail. This “hike” (it’s really more of a stroll) is just shy of a mile and takes you through the trees on a perfectly smooth, flat trail that is easy for strollers and wheelchairs to maneuver along.
With one of the park’s Nature Trail Guides in hand we ventured off stopping first at the gigantic cross-cut slice of a 2,000 year old redwood tree. “Be sure to touch the rings,” said Dave, “notice how some rings are wider than most… this is likely from years with plenty of rain, while the very narrow rings may have come from drought years.” Visitors are encouraged to get hands-on with tree trunks and redwood bark; there are even a few trees you can climb inside; including the “Fremont Tree” where explorer John Fremont was rumored to have slept during his travels. Inside the “room” in the tree, there there was once an opening, and you can see where the tree has healed itself – “another one of the redwood trees superhero qualities,” Daniel pointed out.
Further down the trail, Daniel explained the unique habitat of the forest. “Plants in a redwood forest are specialized,” he explained. “A river or chaparral habitat is like a supermarket for wildlife…there are many different kinds of plants and food. A redwood forest has low light and high acidity, so it’s more like a specialty store…there are not enough plants to feed much wildlife.” The perfect ending to our trek came with the sighting of the famous forest resident, yellow banana slug. (This bright and sticky dweller thrives in the shaded forest environment, and is also the University of California Santa Cruz mascot!