Dawn Redwood in the Arboretum

Did you know that the Wallis Arboretum is the site of two pre-historic trees: Ginkgo biloba and Metasequoia glyptostroboides? Both species are from China, the fossil records of ginkgo dating to more than 200 million years ago and metasequoia (also known as the Dawn Redwood) a mere 50 million.

As was–and is–the custom from the time the house was built in 1850, the latest introductions were always planted at 616 Pleasant Street. A row of ginkgos separated the family area from the cutting and vegetable garden.

The metasequoia did not arrive at the arboretum until the 1950s. The species was once prolific in North America, Japan and China, so much so that its fossil remains are Oregon’s State Fossil. The species was considered extinct until 1938 when a Chinese botanist discovered a living tree in China. With the threat of war, it was not until the late 1940s that Arnold Arboretum (Harvard) funded a trip to collect seed, sending them on to various countries and the Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT)

Metasequoia is the smallest of the three living species of redwood, the the other two being the Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in the Pacific Northwest and the Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in the Sierra Nevada mountains. They are cousins and easy to confuse, though Metasequoia foliage is scaley and deciduous, while redwood’s foliage is needle-like.

Metasequoia is a beautiful tree that with a trunk that buttresses with age. It has reddish bark that exfoliates in narrow strips. In the fall, needles turn orange-brown to red-brown.

Today, the ‘living fossil’ (as it is often called) is readily available to the average grower. Unless you have extensive room, do not plant it as it grows 3-5’ a year, reaching over 100’ and 25’ wide. It grows best in a sunny location and even tolerates dry soil and hardy in zones 5-8.

In ‘Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs’ he states that a single specimen is an imposing sight, but groupings and groves are also effective as attested by the grove planted at MOBOT in 1947. 

If your yard is not big enough for metasequoia, visit the Nannine Clay Wallis Arboretum any time. It is open to the public with no fee.

For more information about Metasequoia go to: landscapearchitecturemagazine.org, The Metasequoia Mystery