Recently, I visited Muir Woods National Monument, one of the last surviving old-growth coastal redwood forests in the world. I’ve been fascinated with old-growth forests since I was an Artist-in-Residence for the National Park Service at an old-growth Douglas fir forest in southwestern Oregon.
The monument was named for John Muir, an American conservationist, and a personal hero. Coastal redwood forests like this boast the world’s tallest trees. The tallest redwood in the park is a mere 258 feet. That’s over three blue whales (our largest animal) stacked end-to-end.
One thing that I noticed was that old-growth redwood forests host some unique native plants, like sword ferns, redwood sorrel, rhododendron, and huckleberry.
The oversized redwood sorrel and giant horsetail were some of the first plants I saw along Redwood Creek when entering the park.
Redwood sorrel is related to common yellow woodsorrel. Both are edible, but redwood sorrel is only safe to eat in small amounts. Horsetails are over 300 million years old, and like the ferns they grow with, they reproduce using spores.
Another flower I saw was the Andrews Clintonia, a type of bluebead lily that prefers coastal redwood forests.
Their bright pink flowers stick out against the forest floor of dark green ferns.
Other flowers I saw (this time on Ben Johnson trail) were harvest brodiaea, woodland madia, and western starflower.
Woodland madia and western starflower only grow in shaded forests; Northern California is at the southern end of this starflower’s range.
Muir Woods boasts an incredible diversity of animal life, with over 50 species of birds. A few of the birds I saw or heard were the common raven, dark-eyed junco, Pacific wren, Swainson’s thrush, hermit thrush, and one very bold Steller’s jay.
I recorded some wild soundscapes while hiking in the park using a pocket digital recorder. I document wild soundscapes to help fight against noise pollution, which can impact an animal’s ability to navigate, find food, and mate.
Below are three favorite recordings, including a Pacific wren singing near Cathedral Grove, the sounds of a hermit thrush in the windy redwood canopy on Ben Johnson trail, and tall redwoods creaking near Redwood Creek. You can hear some human noise, but they still evoke the park’s majestic sounds.