Metasequoia glyptostroboides, commonly known as
is a majestic tree perfectly suited for use in a larger landscape.
By planting a dawn redwood you are planting part of history. It is a
tree that existed in the Mesozoic period — when dinosaurs roamed our
Dawn redwoods have a fascinating history. Botanists have dubbed
its discovery the most significant event in the plant world
during the past century. It was known only as a fossil until the
1940s, when a stand was discovered in a remote part of China.
Scientists thought dawn redwoods had been extinct for 5 million
years. In 1947, a group of plantsmen from the Harvard
University’s Arnold Arboretum traveled to China.
They gathered 4 pounds of seeds, which were ultimately shared
with other institutions and botanical gardens in the United
States and Europe. This was the beginning of the resurgence of
dawn redwood in horticultural circles worldwide.
Dawn redwood is pyramidal in youth, becoming more rounded with
age. It is a tree which offers four-season interest. In the
spring and summer, green cones one-half to 1 inch in diameter
hang delicately from its feathery green needles. The needles
turn orange to rust in the fall, perfectly complemented by its
cinnamon-colored bark. In winter, its stark silhouette and
buttressed trunk make a strong statement against the snow.
These are large trees that require plenty of space. Newly
planted trees can grow quickly, up to 7 feet per year in optimal
growing conditions. Mature trees can reach 90 feet with a spread
of 25 feet. The original trees in China are almost 130 feet
tall. Because of their ultimate size, dawn redwoods require a
large site. They are often featured in parks and golf courses.
If you have a large open area of lawn and would like an unusual
specimen tree, dawn redwood would be a great choice.
They are not difficult to grow and hardy in zones 4-8. This tree
loves three things — full sun, moist but well-drained soil and
slightly acidic soil pH. The tree will thrive if all three of
these conditions exist. It does not do well in alkaline soils,
but it is adaptable to partial sun and less than ideal soil
moisture. Because of its uniform growth habit, a dawn redwood
requires very little pruning to obtain a nice shape. It is
relatively free of pests and diseases, although bagworms and
Japanese beetles may affect the foliage.
One of 3 Deciduous Conifers
Dawn redwood is unique in that it is one of three deciduous
conifers. The other two are the larch (Larix) and the bald
cypress (Taxodium distichum). Despite their needle-shaped
leaves, these species are deciduous. In the fall, these species’
green needles turn yellow or russet before falling. Neophyte
homeowners might mistakenly have the tree removed when what they
surmise are evergreen trees shed their needles.
the lateral branches of Metasequoia glyptostroboides are left to
grow down to the base, the tree will develop its trademark
fluted trunk. In my own garden, I have allowed these side
branches to remain and I enjoy the sculptural shape of the
trunk. Often gardeners will remove the lower limbs of the tree
to facilitate lawn care.
There are several cultivars: ‘Goldrush’ and ‘Ogon’ which have
bright yellow foliage, and ‘Sheridan Spire’ and ‘National,’
which grow to a relatively “short” 60 feet tall and have a more
fastigiate (narrow) shape. These attributes make them valuable
in a space too small to accommodate the species. ‘Emerald
Feathers’ has exceptionally fine green foliage.
The dawn redwood is often confused with its look-alike cousin,
the bald cypress. The dawn redwood with its more pyramidal habit
has opposite leaves, while the more columnar bald cypress has
planted a dawn redwood two decades ago. It is now 40 feet tall
with a spread of 20 feet. I loved the notion that the dawn
redwood was lost to antiquity and was then “found”. It is a
wonderful conversation piece in the garden. Metasequoia
glyptostroboides is easy to find at local nurseries, yet is
considered a critically endangered species in the wild. I love
it for its bizarre and wonderfully twisted trunk and its unusual
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