California’s famous redwoods growing special leaves to combat historic drought, scientists find

Trees in drier, southern climates adapt to ensure they take in enough water

Abe Asher
Thursday 19 May 2022 02:13
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Related video: Condors reintroduced to California coastal redwoods for first time in a century

California’s famous redwood trees grow leaves specifically designed to suck in enough water from the air around them, according to a new study.

It has long been accepted scientific fact that trees absorb water through their leaves. But the new study published in the American Journal of Botany, shows in new detail how redwoods adapt their capacity for water intake to their particular enviornmental conditions.

Redwoods, which once thrived in the western hemisphere but can now only be found in coastal California and southern Oregon, have two types of shoots: axial shoots, which are bunched together and located close to the twig, and peripheral shoots, which are longer and more commonly identified as leaves.

The axial shoots are major sources of water. They absorb water at four times the rate of peripheral shoots, which have other critical functions like powering photosynthasis.

Researchers, including ecologist Alana Chin of ETH Zürich, found that in trees located in drier, more southern locales, redwoods’ axial shoots are located higher on the tree — while in wetter, more northern climates, the trees’ axial shoots are located lower down.

The higher location of the axial shoots allows them to better absorb moisture from rain and fog for trees that might not see a great quantity of rain during the summer months.

Redwoods’ ability to adapt to their environmental conditions will likely only become more important in the coming years as climate change continues to make California and Oregon drier and hotter.

The average temperature in California is projected to increase by two degrees within the next 20 years, while the average temperature in Oregon is expected to increase by five degrees by the year 2050.

Like many other plant species, redwoods and giant sequoias are extremely susceptible to the threat of climate change-induced snowpac melt and wildfires in the longterm.

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