The height and stature of the old growth in Big Basin Redwoods State Park astound you as soon as you arrive. When my friend and I began hiking recently, we heard various rustling sounds every few steps. We looked around expecting to find some hungry squirrels racing through the leaves eating nuts off the trees or birds rooting around in the canopy for goodies. After a half mile it hit us—tanoak acorns were dropping like rain. Every meaty nut surrounded by its hard shell sounded off even though it was falling into thick duff on the forest floor. By the end of two days we must have heard at least 200 acorns hit the ground.
Although fruiting is of course a common occurrence, we were not accustomed to the sounds of acorn dispersal. Little else disturbed the forest silence. These old redwood forests really are ancient. While an individual redwood tree doesn’t age more than 2,500 years, their presence in California dates back 20 million years and their ancestor cousins go back 200 million years.
All of the coastal redwoods reside between the southern tip of Oregon and Big Sur. Over 220 plant species and more than 250 epiphytes are spread over the 450 miles of the California coast. Yet the different redwood forests only share 20% of the plant species. Scientists have said that the northern California redwoods are more similar to the temperate rainforests of Oregon and Washington than to the redwoods here in the Bay Area.