Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Butano State Park
Trip Date: Febuary 21, 2009
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: Febuary 9, 2009

Saturday, February 21 saw a nice turnout of camera club members and associates. At least 13 persons visited Buck's for breakfast, Duarte's for lunch and... Oh, yes! Stopped by Butano State Park, a sparsely used gem of a state park located near the San Mateo County coast to take photos. Butano's main attraction, of course, is its lush forest of Coast Redwood. Mostly a "second-growth" forest, this forest was logged many years ago, but does contain some "old growth" stands like those found in Muir Woods, Big Basin etc.

The business at hand for our group was fungi. Although there was not a great abundance of mushrooms as in some very wet years, there were still some very nice specimens of staghorns, numerous types of shelf fungi, a variety of red and white cap mushrooms, some brown cup fungi, as well as a wide variety of the blob-type fungi ranging in color from bright gold and green to chocolate brown. Overall, it was a great field trip with some funny moments and a lot of camaraderie. Plus, we had a great breakfast at Buck's in Woodside and a nice lunch at our usual haunt, Duarte's in Pescadero. If it wasn't for all the great mushrooms we saw at Butano, we could have done away with the shooting althogether! On this trip, however, the shooties and foodies achieved a balance of happiness never before achieved. Perhaps we could reach an accord between the two factions by having a caterer set up a table at each field trip location! (Is that in the budget?)

As expected, Butano was spectacularly verdant and the rains of the previous week provided just enough moisture to kick-start the fungi. Those of us who live on the West Coast are very lucky to live next to some unique and fascinating Coastal Redwood forests ecozones.

The species:
The Coast Redwood species is a very interesting tree and unique to the West Coast. The species ranges from the Klamath Mountains in southern Oregon south to Monterey Bay in California in areas touched by the coastal fog belt. This system contains the tallest forests in the world, with individual trees reaching 350 feet and above in height. Typically, mature stands of Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) produce a deep shade, so the number of companion species is limited. (The Giant Sequoias in the Sierras are a closely related species.)

Coast Redwood is the sole living species of genus Sequoia in the Cypress Family. It can live up to 2,200 years, is the tallest species of tree on earth, with examples as tall at 380 feet with a 26-foot trunk diameter. It's closest relatives are the Giant Sequoias found in the Sierras and the Dawn Redwood found in Asia. The species inhabits a narrow band along the west coast of California and Oregon between sea level and 3,000 feet in elevation. In the dryer southern range, the trees are limited mostly to coves and ravines.

Redwoods reproduce by either seeds or regeneration from adventitious buds in the upper roots or under the bark of the mature trees, the latter being the more common means of reproduction in a species with a seed viability rate of about 15 percent. Forest fires are actually advantageous for redwood seed reproduction because burning exposes the soil where seeds can germinate. The young trees grow very fast and can shoot up to the 65-foot level in 20 years. And when a redwood tree falls over, new saplings are generated along the entire trunk--even from fallen branches. When a redwood tree is damaged or begins to die, the growth buds are activated and begin sprouting. The presence of former trees is evident in circular stands of trees and the straight ranks of younger trees where an older tree has fallen.

On old trees, the tannin-rich bark can be up to a foot thick and provides excellent protection from insects and fire. The bark, however, is useless against the tree's worst enemy - the lumber industry.

Coast redwoods subside on heavy rainfall and the presence of coastal fog, creating a very wet, nutrient-deprived, heavily shaded growing environment. The trees get most of their nourishment from the fallen trees and rotting plant matter that covers the forest floor. The root system is composed of wide, lateral spreading roots, with no taproot.

What's the largest tree?
To date, the world's tallest living thing is a Coast Redwood, called Hyperion, at 379.1 feet in Redwood National Park. The previous record holder was the Stratosphere Giant in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park (about 10 feet shorter). The 1,600-year-old Dyerville Giant (also at Humboldt Redwoods) held the previous record until it fell over in 1991.

The largest Coast Redwood, in terms of volume, is the Lost Monarch, with an estimated volume of 42,500 cubic feet - 320 feet tall with a diameter of 26 feet at breast height. It is located in the Grove of the Titans. There are seven Giant Sequoias known to be larger. The Sequoias are shorter than the Coast Redwood but have thicker trunks. One is the famous General Sherman with a volume of 52,510 cubic feet, making it the world's largest known tree. A tree cut down in 1926 supposedly had a volume of 63,350 cubic feet, but the numbers cannot be verified.

Companion plant species:
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the most common associate among the large trees. Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) is found in old-growth stands, and Tan Oak or Tanbark Oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus) occurs as a subcanopy in almost all stands (possibly as a result of fire suppression).

Shade-tolerant understory species include Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) with its maple-like leaves, Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana), Elk Clover (Aralia californica), Longleaf Mahonia (Mahonia nervosa) (= Berberis nervosa), Salal or Shallon (Gaultheria shallon), and many ferns, such as Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant), Shaggy Shielf Fern Polystichum spp., and a Polypody Fern such as Polypodium spp.

Fire suppression has tended to result in increasing abundance of Tanbark Oak, Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica), Red Alder (Alnus rubra), Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii), and Bigleaf Maple or Oregon Maple (Acer macrophyllum); all respond favorably to fire, flood, wind and slides, becoming more abundant in areas of frequent disturbance.

© 2009 S.R. Hinrichs