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Pygmy Forest Discovery Trail

Short nature hike through a grove of 100 year old trees stunted by poor soil conditions.
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 0.2 miles
Duration: Less than 1 hour
Family Friendly

Overview :  You are about to see a forest where nature, practicing a form of bonsai, has created vegetation that is dwarfed and stunted.

To learn... more »

Tips:  While this trail is located in the Van Damme State Park you do not access it from the main park entrance, unless you walk a few miles ... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Parking Area/Trailhead

2. Pygmy Forest Evolution

The land on which the Pygmy Forest now grows was once under the Pacific Ocean. Geologic uplift and changes in the sea level exposed the land and created a series of terraces, each about one hundred feet higher and one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand years older than the one below.

3. Loop Junction

The nature trail is built for you to go clockwise around the loop, but you can go either way and the trail will bring you back to this point.

4. California Huckleberry

California Huckleberry grows in many forests along the Pacific Coast and is common in the Pygmy Forest. The edible berries (ranging from shiny black to powdery blue) were an important part of the diet of the native Americans, who regularly set fires in the Pygmy Forest to increase the next year's yield. The huckleberries were eaten fresh or... More

5. Bolander Pine

The Bolander Pine is unique to the Pygmy Forest. These trees are close relatives of the Beach Pine that grows along the coast and the Lodgepole Pine in the Sierra Nevada. Pygmy cypress and bolander Pine often grow in thickets of cane-like trees that, although very small, are biologically mature and bear fertile cones.

6. The Ancient Soils

These soils are between five hundred thousand and one million years old. The soil is so old because the flatness of this coastal terrace prevents new soil formation, and there is not a higher terrace draining into it to bring new soil through the process of natural erosion.

This flat terrain restricts drainage and allows rain to leach most of... More

7. Mendocino Cypress

The Mendocino or Pygmy Cypress is found only on coastal terraces between Fort Bragg and Anchor Bay. When not in poor soil, a tree can grow over a hundred feet tall; here, a tree with a trunk diameter of one quarter inch, standing only a foot or two high, may have as many as eighty growth rings. Some of these trees are undoubtedly over a century ... More

8. Bishop Pine

A taller tree that often borders and frequently grows within the Pygmy Forest, the Bishop Pine has a larger cone and much longer grayish needles than the greener-hued Bolander Pine. Both pines retain their cones for many years; some cones remain closed until a fire opens them to spread the seeds that start a new forest.

9. Dwarf Manzanita

The dominant low shrub with the very small leaves is Dwarf or fort Bragg Manzanita. For the most part it is restricted to the soils of the Pygmy Forest. The taller Hairy Manzanita, is also found in the Pygmy forest.

10. Rhododendron

In the Pygmy Forest, the California Rhododendron or California Rose Bay, a common shrub along the northern Pacific Coast, is dwarfed. It is five times taller in the neighboring redwood forest. It grows best in acid soils, and is less dwarfed than the other plants. In spring, its pinkish-red blooms dominate the landscape with spectacular displays.