Muir Woods is a very special NPS property for its ecological and cultural significance, and I was so happy to be able to visit this site for my self on a beautiful March day. Its perpetual protection dates back to January 9, 1908, when President Theodore Roosevelt and land owner William Kent together established Muir Woods National Monument under the Antiquities Act, with Kent requested that the park be named after naturalist John Muir.
Ecologically speaking, the property is most significant for being part of the redwood’s latitudinal range which spans from the California/Oregon border to Big Sur, just south of Monterey. Additionally, the area is home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. The mushroom and fungi collection is quite diverse, with over 200 different species of fungi living in this old-growth Coast Redwood forest. Particularly fascinating is a the vast network of fungal bodies, or hyphae, that lives in mass quantities just below the surface and forms an incredible symbiotic relationship with the forest floor roots systems of both trees and shrubs. This connection is vital to the Muir Woods ecosystem, for this partnership greatly increases water uptake and mineral absorption for the canopy, while in return, the fungus is provided with photosynthetic nutrients. I was able to see some evidence of fungi on my trip, and was interested to learn that most of the fungal hyphae reside underground.
Another focal point in ecology at Muir Woods are the ferns. The one’s I was able to identify were lady ferns, sword ferns, and maiden hair ferns. A species new to me was gold back ferns. Altogether, Muir Woods is home to 13 species of ferns from six different fern families. A cool fact about ferns are their ancient [over 300 millions yrs old] reproductive method, where they produce spores instead of fruits. So while ferns don’t produce fruit or seed, they do still have vascular tissue (such as xylem and phloem for conducting water and sugars).
And finally, its worth contextualizing the sheer greatness of coastal redwood trees in the park: the coastal redwood is one of the tallest tree species living in the world today. While the tallest coastal redwood at Muir Woods is approximately 258 feet, these trees can reach heights up to 379 feet further north. The average age of the coastal redwoods at Muir Woods is between 600 to 800 years, and the oldest being at least 1200 years old. Apparently, redwoods can live up to 2200 years, and this longevity and staying power is vital toward nurturing a long term role forest health in relation to the cycling of carbon, nutrients, and water. Its was truly incredible to read and take in these facts while standing at the base of these magnificent creatures and gifts of ongoing life.
Now for the people who had a significant impact on the land over time. On this trip I learn that the Kents can be viewed as true American heroes in preservation, when Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth bought several hundred acres in 1905 [then called Redwood Creek] to save the area from logging, development, and infrastructure projects. In one such example in 1907, a local water company from Sausalito planned to dam Redwood Creek, and the Kents prevented this happening by donating 295 acres to the federal government, forever protecting the core of the redwood forest. Up until the 19th century, the coast redwood forests in many northern California coastal valleys were logged, and Redwood Creek [now Muir Woods] contained one of the Bay Area’s last uncut stands of old-growth redwood. It would have been a true tragedy to lose this community.
Being in a place and experiencing an environment like this and its vital impact to sequestering carbon, stabilizing the water table, and providing a community to a wealth of flora and fauna is truly humbling. I left wondering how a great wonder of the world such as the redwood forest would fare over time with the challenges of climate change. Apparently, there is a lot of research and monitoring going on this geographic area, and the NPS has even launched a few reports and to help the public understand the challenges in this area. One such document I skimmed through was called Climate Change in the National Parks Of the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA, and there were many areas in the research that pointed out future vulnerabilities for Muir Woods. One of many such examples was particularly salient. Apparently, the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) requires coastal fog in the summer to provide water for survival and growth and climate projections for 2020-2030 indicates that increased climate water deficit could reduce suitable climate for coast redwood in Muir Woods under scenarios of increased aridity (Fernandez et al. 2015). The report basically outlines a series of events and scenarios where the redwood forest could be or will be stressed, and its our job to monitor these activities over time to help oversee the long term health of these spaces.
A few other very quick observations:
- Awesome sanctuary for banana slugs. Check out my picture of a banana slug eating a banana!
- The NPS issued out junior ranger badges made of actual redwood. Very cool.
- A great place to learn about native ferns of coastal California…see my notes up top.
- Get there early for a parking space! There’s limited parking, which means less people and a more enjoyable experience, but plan ahead.
- I found the park rangers to be very knowledgeable and loved picking their brains about all topics surrounding the park. What a job!
See my photos here