Pygmies among Giants

In the middle of the vast redwood empire where the tallest living things on Earth live, a small section of Van Damme State Park just south of Mendocino features a pygmy forest. The trees are so small that their trunks can be only 1/4″ in diameter yet be almost a hundred years old. The forest is protected by the state of California. With soils no more recent than half to one million years old overlaying them, they have been leached of nutrients by rains ever since, creating an almost inhospitably acidic and hardpan environment that stunts the growth of two species of pine and the Mendocino cypress, causing some to use bonsai forest as a moniker. Other plants, including acid-loving California Rose Bay rhododendrons, normally achieving great heights in the redwood forest understory nearby, are also dwarfed.

An interpretive trail of boardwalk loops through the forest that can be reached either from the campground by trail or from a parking lot on the eastern edge of Van Damme.

Dwarf Mendocino cypress is only 3 feet in height though many years old
Dwarf Mendocino cypress is only 3 feet in height though many years old

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