This dawn redwood is among the first of its kind to grow in North America in over two million years.
In 1998, the Arboretum’s magazine, Arnoldia, named the dawn redwood the “tree of the century.” You may recognize the tree from the Arboretum’s logo, where it has been featured since 1995. The tree symbolizes the Arboretum’s missions of international conservation, education, and research.
In the early 1940s, the genus Metasequoia was known only from the fossil record Fossil record: The totality of all preserved remains of once-living things throughout geological history. . Rocks containing the imprints of the dawn redwood’s characteristic needle pattern had been found in North America, Europe, and East Asia.
Then, a forester, Zhan Wang took samples from a mysterious stand of trees deep in a valley in the Hubei Province of central China. At the foot of the oldest tree were a collection of votives—community members had been leaving offerings under the branches for decades.
Over the next several years, Wang worked with colleagues to coordinate collecting expeditions and taxonomic Taxonomy: A branch of science concerned with systems of classifying living and non-living things. identification of the trees. One of these colleagues was Hsen Hsu Hu, a prominent professor who was the first person from China to receive a doctorate in botany from Harvard University. In 1946, Hu and another professor announced the discovery that Metasequoia had not gone extinct after all. It was alive and well and living in western Hubei Province.
The discovery of a “living fossil” made international headlines. Researchers and scientists rushed to see the trees for themselves. Elmer Merrill, director of the Arboretum from 1935 to 1946, funded a collecting trip in China to bring back seed.
The dawn redwoods planted at the Arboretum—including the one before you—are the first of their kind to grow in North America in over two million years. The Arboretum distributed over a kilogram of the tiny, lentil-sized seeds to arboreta and botanic gardens across the world, playing a crucial role in the tree’s international reinstatement and conservation.
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Viewing this plant in-person? Look for these defining characteristics:
About Our Collection
Once thought to be extinct, dawn redwood populated parts of Eastern Russia, Europe, China, Japan and North America around 60 million years ago.
Dawn redwood is deciduous, dropping its needles every autumn—an unusual trait for a conifer.
This tree is a relative of the California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), diverging around 150 million years ago.
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