The Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is an Asiatic, deciduous conifer that has a storied past and deep Boston roots. This beautiful tree was well known to science from the fossil record – fossils had been found in North America, Asia, and Greenland– but was thought to be extinct. In 1943, a Chinese forester discovered a living specimen, and in 1946 Chinese scientists realized that it was the same plant as the fossil. In 1948, an expedition from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University collected seeds from the original tree, of which many ornamental Dawn Redwoods are descendants.
Dawn Redwoods grew widely in the Northern Hemisphere in the Mesozoic era, when dinosaurs dominated the fauna. They date back 100 million years in the fossil record, but are now restricted to several small stands in China. Classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the fast growing tree is now planted widely at botanic gardens and parks around the world.
Its pale green needles and ferny foliage turn pink and gold to brown in the fall before dropping off. Its conical growth form is distinctive, and it is often planted along waterways or in groves. The specimens in the Public Garden were likely planted in the 1950s.
How amazing that this ancient species, with help from humanity, has recolonized its Mesozoic range after being reduced to a single population!
Claire Corcoran is an ecologist and member of the Friends of the Public Garden Board of Directors. She is a self proclaimed “tree hugger” and dedicated advocate for greenspace in Boston and beyond. Claire lives in the South End of Boston with her husband and three children.