It stands nearly 250 feet tall and a lot of people (including scientists) believed that it is 1,500 years old. Now, thanks to precise tests and analyses, the record was set straight: the tallest tree of Muir Woods, California has only half its previously assumed age. However, at 777 years old, it is still one of the most impressive natural monuments in the world.
The analysis was conducted by specialists from Humboldt State University is the first attempt of this kind to establish the true age of the Muir Wood, located at the north of San Francisco. The study was performed at the request of Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco based association which wants to identify the age of trees throughout the state of California and document their response to climate change.
A Flaw in Original Calculations
Tree age is calculated based on its rings. Every year adds a ring to the circumference of the tree. For Muir Woods, an opportunity to establish the average age of trees came in June 2011, when one of its trees, named “Vortex” by the Save the Redwoods League, was felled to the ground by a storm.
A cross-section of the tree was analyzed back then and was added to previous assumptions. Thus, the age of the wood was determined at around 1,200-1,500 years. However, the tree rings react differently to dry years and rainy years. During dry years, the ring is smaller, while during rainy years it grows larger.
Just a Baby Compared to Other Trees
The recent study results completely change the perspective for the tallest tree of Muir Woods. It is just a baby compared to trees in forests up north, which are around 2,500 years old. The oldest documented tree in the United States has reached the astounding age of 3,240 years. It is a sequoia growing in Sierra Nevada.
What could be the reason for the large gap in age between the trees of Muir Wood and the surrounding area? The Humboldt State University study could offer no answer to this question. However, Emily Burns, the scientific director of Save the Redwoods League, proposes a plausible theory. She claims that a natural catastrophe, such as a fire or floods, destroyed Muir Wood nearly 8 centuries ago and it was forced to regenerate from that point onwards.