A tall deciduous conifer with an iconic Christmas-tree profile. It is a deciduous conifer, its bright green needle leaves turn orange and fall off before winter. In China it is commonly called the “water-pine” because it grows in drenched lowlands.
Dawn redwoods once grew all over the northern hemisphere, and their closest relatives are the redwoods on the Pacific Coast of North America. North America’s redwoods are Sequoias, this Redwood is the Metasequoia, meaning changed Sequoia.
Scientists believed that they had been extinct for millions of years, they could only find fossil remnants of it. That was until the 1940’s when a Chinese forester discovered them growing in a single forest in Lichuan Province, Hubei China. These dawn redwoods were growing in the lowlands, often in standing water were rice was cultivated. Locals called them 水杉, the “water fir.” Seeds and cuttings were soon collected and exchanged, and the baby trees were distributed worldwide to help regenerate the population.
Because dawn redwoods loose their leaves in winter, they are able to grow in much colder temperatures than other redwoods. Young seedlings have survived in harsh conditions in Alaska, Europe and North America, hinting that their original range probably included icy climates.
Height: Most 50-60 ft (15-18 meters), but it can reach up to 165 ft (50m)
Profile: Christmas tree
Leaves: Feathery soft needle leaves
Cones: Both male and female cones on the tree, larger globe-shaped female seed cones (3/4 inch long), smaller male drooping pollen cones.
Bark: Reddish brown, peels in long strips
Where to find in Richmond VA: Along Monument Avenue near the I-95 exchange, Maymont Park, Sneeds Nursery.
WHY “DAWN” REDWOOD?
Coastal Redwoods and Giant Sequoias are the only cousins of Dawn Redwoods. These sequoias are significant actors in the biomes of the Pacific Northwest. They not only support a huge amount of wildlife, they can influence weather patterns, draw thousands of tourists every month, and they hold the record for the largest organism on the earth. While not the oldest organism on earth, one particular Giant Sequoia in Redwood National Forest is 3,240 years old, born in 1221 B.C.E.
Sequoias are incredible, so when the Metasequoia was discovered in China, Californians were among the first to pay attention. A U.C. Berkeley professor and a science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle travelled to China and were the first westerners to see the tree. U.C. Berkeley funded a seed dispersal project to help spread the tree to botanical gardens, universities and colleges throughout the world. And the name Dawn Redwood was thought up in an editorial office of the San Francisco Chronicle to help sell the story.