In 200 Feet up a Redwood, I described my climb into a large double redwood to help Steve Sillett and his team make measurements for Save the Redwoods League’s Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. While up in this tree, I was suspended alongside enormous fern mats in the canopy. These ferns are called leather fern (Polypodium scoulerii) and they grow as epiphytes, meaning they grow on top of branches or nestled within cavities of a tree.
Canopy researchers find these lush fern mats in old redwoods, trees that have been growing long enough to develop large branches that serve as platforms. Over time leaves and bark fall off the tree and collect on these platforms, breaking down into organic soil for other plants to root in. As ferns grow and multiply, they trap even more soil on redwood branches and a whole food web forms with insects and salamanders.
My own research focuses on redwood forest ferns and now I want to learn more about this sky high ferns: Do they absorb fog water? How do they get into the canopy in the first place? How old does a young redwood need to be before these fern mats establish in the crown? So many questions, I better get to answering them!