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Tallest redwood in Muir Woods is 777 years old, half its believed age

777 years young! Scientists pin down age on tallest redwood in Muir Woods

This is one of the few times 777 years old is actually considered young.

In a new study by Humboldt State University researchers, the tallest redwood tree in Muir Woods was determined to be about 777 years old, about half of the 1,500 years scientists originally believed.

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June 2, 8:53 a.m.: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Humboldt State University as Cal State Humboldt.

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The finding, initially reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, is the first time the towering Muir Woods trees have been dated -- and the results were encouraging, said Emily Burns, science director with Save the Redwoods League, which is working with the university on a longterm study of climate change’s effects on redwoods and giant sequoias -- the tallest and largest trees, respectively, on Earth.

The trees appear to be growing faster as they grow older, despite climate change and, in the last few years, a sustained drought, Burns said.

Redwoods “tend to grow in some of the wettest places in California,” she said. Even while the state as a whole sees little rain, the tallest forests are in areas blanketed in fog, rooted in wet soil or at the foot of snow runoffs.

By analyzing the trees' rings, researchers developed a way to decode the redwoods and how they’ve been responding to environmental conditions, Burns said.

The redwood forests all saw stunted growth around the year 1580, she said. In the last few decades the tree growth accelerated.

Scientists initially estimated Tree 76, the tallest in Muir Woods at nearly 250 feet, was probably about 1,500 years old, sprouting about the time of the King Arthur legend and the birth of the prophet Muhammad.

But in the current study, scientists using a technique that involves pulling out pencil-thin core strips from the tree at various heights, studying them and comparing them with other trees, estimated Tree 76 sprang up 777 years ago, give or take 34 years. That’s about the time of the last Crusades.

Tree 76 is also on the southern side of the redwood forest, a thin coastal strip that stretches from Big Sur to southwest Oregon. The trees are taller and their trunks thinner than their relatives, the giant sequoias in the southern Sierra Nevada, which are the biggest living things in the world by volume.

The oldest coastal redwood is 2,520 years old and the oldest giant sequoia is about 3,200 years old, Burns said.

She could not say why the sample of trees examined at Muir Woods was substantially younger than ones farther north, but she said natural occurrences such as landslides or wildfires could have played a role in wiping out older generations.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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