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Old reserves and ancient buds fuel regrowth of coast redwood after catastrophic fire


For long-lived organisms, investment in insurance strategies such as reserve energy storage can enable resilience to resource deficits, stress or catastrophic disturbance. Recent fire in California damaged coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) groves, consuming all foliage on some of the tallest and oldest trees on Earth. Burned trees recovered through resprouting from roots, trunk and branches, necessarily supported by nonstructural carbon reserves. Nonstructural carbon reserves can be many years old, but direct use of old carbon has rarely been documented and never in such large, old trees. We found some sprouts contained the oldest carbon ever observed to be remobilized for growth. For certain trees, simulations estimate up to half of sprout carbon was acquired in photosynthesis more than 57 years prior, and direct observations in sapwood show trees can access reserves at least as old. Sprouts also emerged from ancient buds—dormant under bark for centuries. For organisms with millennial lifespans, traits enabling survival of infrequent but catastrophic events may represent an important energy sink. Remobilization of decades-old photosynthate after disturbance demonstrates substantial amounts of nonstructural carbon within ancient trees cycles on slow, multidecadal timescales.

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Fig. 1: The CZU Lightning Complex fire burned through BBRSP on 18 August 2020.
Fig. 2: Radiocarbon (14C) levels in the atmosphere spiked in the early 1960s following atmospheric thermonuclear bomb testing, and incorporation of this bomb carbon into tree carbon reserves provides information on the age of reserves.
Fig. 3: Post-fire sprouts were built from reserve carbon with a 14C mean age (reserve carbon is a heterogeneous mixture) from 1 to 21 years old.
Fig. 4: Some trees built new tissues with carbon reserves fixed before the peak of the bomb spike (1963); these reserves are at least 57 years old.
Fig. 5: Sprouts arose from ancient buds.

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Radiocarbon data are provided in Supplementtary Information, and other data are archived at

Code availability

Simulation code is archived at


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This work was funded by NSF-IOS-RAPID number 2053337 and grant number 149 from the Save-the-Redwoods League. The incubation method we used was developed under NSF-IOS-RAPID number 1936205. We thank J. Kerbavaz and the staff at BBRSP for allowing research access soon after the fire. We thank J. Campbell-Spickler for assistance in installing canopy PhenoCams. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Office of the President and Vice President of Research at Northern Arizona University for acquisition of the MICADAS.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.S.C., G.K. and A.D.R. conceived of the study. M.E. surveyed and selected study trees, and G.K., A.D.R., J.L., M.E. and D.M.P.P. collected the data. M.C.M. and A.M.T. contributed additional carbohydrate measurements and analysis. D.M.P.P., M.S.C. and A.D.R. analysed the data, and D.M.P.P. wrote the first draft of the manuscript with M.S.C., G.K. and A.D.R. All authors substantially contributed to revisions.

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Correspondence to Drew M. P. Peltier.

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Nature Plants thanks Jordi Martinez-Vilalta, Frida Piper and Adrian Rocha for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–5 and Supplementary Table 1.

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Supplementary Table

Table 1. Full radiocarbon dataset including all measured sprouts, chia plant samples and sapwood incubations. We report fraction modern (F14C), Δ14C and associated AMS analytical error in ‰. For sprouts, replicates within collection date were measured to understand within-sprout (for example, top/bottom, leaves/stem) or within-tree variation, but while differences were sometimes considerable no systematic patterns were observed, and so we report all observations. For sapwood incubations, tissue denotes sapwood depth, where for April 2021 collections 1 and 2 indicate shallow and deep sapwood halves, respectively. For April 2022 incubations were sampled as finely as possible, typically eighths denoted by 1–8; some samples were lost.

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Peltier, D.M.P., Carbone, M.S., Enright, M. et al. Old reserves and ancient buds fuel regrowth of coast redwood after catastrophic fire. Nat. Plants 9, 1978–1985 (2023).

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