California Dreamland Visionary
Stephen C. Sillett, PhD – Botanist
Most of us are satisfied with merely looking up at California’s coast redwoods—craning our heads way, way back to gaze up at the trees’ soaring trunks. Botanist Stephen Sillett is different. Fascinated by what life is like in the mysterious, cloud-like tops, or canopies, of these and other types of skyscraper trees, Dr. Sillett has developed remarkable techniques to not only efficiently scale these giants of the plant world, but to safely study them while working hundreds of feet above the forest floor.
Dr. Sillet, who hails from Pennsylvania, first experienced the West’s extraordinarily tall conifers as an undergraduate student at Oregon’s Reed College, where he studied lichens in the top of old-growth Douglas fir trees. Eventually, his research led him to California’s spectacularly beautiful, densely forested North Coast, where, in 1996, he began teaching at Humboldt State University. “Moving to the northwestern corner of California was a golden opportunity,” notes Dr. Sillet. “It enabled me to extend my research into redwood forests, whose canopies were largely unexplored.” Early research focused on the complex communities of organisms living in the crowns of tall trees. More recently, his work has shifted to the trees themselves, particularly the five species of living trees measuring over 300 feet tall. “My wife, Marie E. Antoine, is also a botanist at Humboldt State,” notes Dr. Sillett. “Together, we study the tallest forests on Earth.”