Why Do Redwoods Release Seeds Only After a Fire?

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Redwood trees, or giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), grow up to 310 feet tall and can live for 3,000 years or longer, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension. These coniferous trees occur only in the Sierra Nevada range in Central California. Fire is the most important agent for releasing seeds from the cones, according to the University of California.

Features

  • Redwood trees produce 2- to 3-inch long cones that remain on the tree for 20 or more years. Green scales that contain seeds cover the cones, which are located mostly near the upper branches.

Function

  • Heat from the fire rises, drying the cones high in the tree canopy and causing the scales to shrink and release their seeds. Fire burns leaf litter from the soil, creating a rich, well-drained growing medium.The wind disperses the seeds to this easily penetrated soil.

Time Frame

  • A mature redwood produces about 1,500 cones each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Redwoods begin to produce seeds after 10 years, with the greatest productivity occurring after 150 years. Beneficial fires and seed-dispersing winds occur during late-summer lightning storms.

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