Metasequoia Genus (dawn redwood)

1 Species with 19 Trinomials

Metasequoia (dawn redwood) is a fast-growing, deciduous tree, and the sole living species, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, is one of three species of conifers known as redwoods. It is native to the Sichuan–Hubei region of China. Although the least tall of the redwoods, it grows to at least 200 feet (60 meters) in height. Local villagers refer to the original tree from which most others derive as Shui-sa, or "water fir", which is part of a local shrine. Since that tree's rediscovery in 1944, the dawn redwood has become a popular ornamental.
Together with Sequoia sempervirens (coast redwood) and Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoia) of California, Metasequoia is classified in the Cupressaceae subfamily Sequoioideae. Although Metasequoia glyptostroboides is the only living species in its genus, three fossil species are known, as well. The other Sequoioideae and several other genera have been transferred from the former Taxodiaceae family to Cupressaceae based on DNA analysis.

Dawn redwood on the campus of San Jose State University
Dawn redwood on the campus of San Jose State University

Metasequoia redwood fossils are known from many areas in the Northern Hemisphere; more than 20 fossil species have been named (some were even identified as the genus Sequoia), but are considered as just three species, M. foxii, M. milleri, and M. occidentalis. During the Paleocene and Eocene, extensive forests of Metasequoia occurred as far north as Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island and sites on Axel Heiberg Island (northern Canada) at around 80° N latitude. Metasequoia was likely deciduous by this time. Given that the high latitudes in this period were warm and tropical, it is hypothesized that the deciduous habit evolved in response to the unusual light availability patterns, not to major seasonal variations in temperature. During three months in the summer, the sun would shine continuously, while three months of the winter would be complete darkness. It is also hypothesized that the change from evergreen to deciduous habit occurred before colonizing the high latitudes and was the reason Metasequoia was dominant in the north.

Large petrified trunks and stumps of the extinct Metasequoia occidentalis (sometimes identified as Sequoia occidentalis) also make up the major portion of Tertiary fossil plant material in the badlands of western North Dakota in the United States.
The trees are well known from late Cretaceous to Miocene strata, but no fossils are known after that. Before its discovery, the taxon was believed to have become extinct during the Miocene; when it was discovered extant, it was heralded as a "living fossil."

While the bark and foliage are similar to another closely related redwood genus Sequoia, Metasequoia differs from the California redwood in that it is deciduous like Taxodium distichum (bald cypress), and like that species, older specimens form wide buttresses on the lower trunk. It is a fast-growing tree to 130 to 150 feet (40 – 45 m) tall and 6 feet (2 m) in trunk diameter in cultivation so far (with the potential to grow to even greater heights).

<em>Metasequoia glyptostroboides</em> leaves; Dawn redwood foliage, note opposite arrangement.
Metasequoia glyptostroboides leaves; Dawn redwood foliage, note opposite arrangement.

The leaves are opposite, 0.4 to 1.25 inches (1 – 3 cm) long, and bright fresh green, turning a foxy red-brown in fall. The pollen cones are 0.25 inch (6 mm) long, produced on long spikes in early spring; they are only produced on trees growing in regions with hot summers. The cones are globose to ovoid, 0.6 to 1.0 inches (1.5 - 2.5 cm) in diameter with 16 to 28 scales, arranged in opposite pairs in four rows, each pair at right angles to the adjacent pair; they mature in about 8 to 9 months after pollination. Metasequoia has experienced morphological stasis for the past 65 million years, meaning the modern Metasequoia glyptostroboides is identical to its late Cretaceous ancestors.

Metasequoia was first described as a fossil from the Mesozoic Era by Shigeru Miki in 1941, but in 1944, a small stand of an unidentified tree species was discovered in China in Modaoxi (presently, Moudao,) in Lichuan County, Hubei by Zhan Wang. Due to World War II, these were not studied further until 1946, and only finally described as a new living species of Metasequoia in 1948 by Wan Chun Cheng and Hu Hsen Hsu. In 1948, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University sent an expedition to collect seeds and, soon after, seedling trees were distributed to various universities and arboreta worldwide for growth trials.

Presently, a number of natural Metasequoia populations exist in the hills and wetlands of Hubei's Lichuan County. Most of them are small, with fewer than 30 trees each; however, the largest of them, in Xiaohe Valley, is estimated to consist of around 5,400 trees. A few trees are also said to exist in the neighboring Hunan Province.

Dawn redwoods are fast-growing trees. Native species will grow too large for small gardens, but can be good in a wide range of larger gardens and parks. (Fortunately, there are dwarf cultivars that will fit in the home landscape.) Although they live in wet sites in their native habitat they will also tolerate dry soils. Unlike most conifers, their deciduous habit means they do not cast too much shade in winter, and they can even be seen growing as street trees in London.

Attribution from: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Comments

Martha Marie

Is there any possibility of obtaining seeds(or something of however they propagate?) I will be building a house on the Olympic Penninsula across from Seattle within a couple of years, and since the lot I purchased has already been cleared, I would like to put in two or three fast growers that would fit well in that climate.

Maxwell Cohn

good news, Martha ... any garden center worth shopping at will have these for sale.

Gregory Hunt

Planted 3 in Eastern Oklahoma. They survived our -25 degree winter, and are happily growing fast. Two are near my well, and one lives on a garden plot near a creek. These are strong and resilient trees. Supplies can be difficult to find, but persist and you will find yours.

Mike

Nice! I just planted 4 here in Central OK this past fall, I'm really excited to see how they do. How tall are yours now? Are they handling this hot and dry summer well?

Lisa

I have one beautiful specimen on my property, I planted another down the driveway and I am growing 2 more. I grow from seeds and from seedlings that often spring up under the tree. fall I gather the nuts and throw them down into the forest that surrounds my property in the hopes more will grow. They are beautiful. I have my swing that sits under the biggest tree and I love to sit there in fair weather. The branches droop to the ground.

Andy Beach

Hi,
What is the life span for a red dawn?
Thank you,
Andy

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Andy ... I assume by "red dawn" you're asking about dawn redwood. These things will likely live for 1000s of years.

Judith Andrews

I worked at a nursery here in the northeast many years ago and bought a "New Dawn redwood'. It was a magnificent tree when it had to be cut down for construction. I would like to replace it, but am having difficulty locating one in all of the nurseries i have called in the area. Any suggestions? Thanks, Judy

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Judy ... 'New Dawn' doesn't come up anywhere as a legitimately named cultivar. Since you didn't provide a description of what the tree looked like, I suggest that you replace with straight species. They are sold nearly everywhere.

Amy Roberts

I am a landscaper. Last week I was told to clean an area under a (about 30 year old, 60 some foot high) Dawn Redwood. I saved all the "baby" trees and took them home, about a 100 of them, ranging from 2" -5" tall.
I successfully took home 3 of them two years ago, kept them inside over the winter, but only got one to live. It was planted last October (on world tree planting day!) It's fenced off from critters in a wide open space. I'm happy to say it has doubled in size! I live in Central Pennsylvania.
My question is, how do I care for these babies. I want a higher success rate since I found a land owner with 20 acres up the road from me who will proudly take them. I haven't had much success with an internet search. Currently they are in pots under my deck, out of direct sun and being kept moist. I tried to imitate where they came from. Should I bring them inside for the winter? Feed them? Any info would be appreciated! I'm totally in love with this tree! Thank you!! Amy

Lisa

Growing a gorgeous Dawn Redwood in southern Ontario, Canada. Clay soil, about 1/2 mile from northern shore of Lake Ontario. I planted her when she was 6' tall 7 years ago, now she's 18'. 😀

Fiona Proctor

Hi Lisa, I’m in Niagara on the southern side of L. Ontario. We planted 2 this past summer in our ravine yard. 10’ tall when planted. Can’t wait for them to fill in as a backdrop to our 4 tulip trees. These were all planted to replace scrub and diseased ash and to provide a sound barrier to a highway that runs behind us. Cheers from Niagara!

Ed

My aunt gave me two 5-foot saplings about 30 years ago. I planted them in heavy soil recently deposited from excavating for a pool. We watered them through the summer, but gave them little additional attention. Today they are beautiful 50+’ tall with trunks ~3’ DBH. Spectacular in the fall. We have potted and given away many seedlings over the years.

Lois Tucker

My neighbors ( guy is a retired pro landscaper / gardener) have a dawn redwood in a pot, have root-pruned it for the pot for years, now want to find a kind good home for it. In Marin County. Contact me if you can take it & plant it.

Philip

Do you still need a place for this tree. I have an idea of where to plant it in Mill Valley. Thanks, Philip

Micheal Kloppel

I grow these from seed and sell that which I do not plant myself. If anyone is every interested in non-cutting, seed grown Dawn Redwoods look up
" Rochester Redwoods " on Facebook. It's a passion for me, I love growing the trees and am dedicating a large portion of my 7 acres to this and other varieties of unique or interesting tree species.

I also have deer damaged specimen I sell for Bonsai, nothing goes to waste!

This is a great site, thanks to those who put it together. Love it!

Stephanie Patton

I planted a 4ft dawn redwood about 30 yrs ago. (Washington DC area, USDA Zone 7) It's now a gorgeous 60 to 70 feet tall and rather messy tree (drops many small branches in the fall on even mildly windy days). I have accommodated the falling needles with special gutters. However, a landscape guy who helps me told me about a larger tree than mine who's top broke off in a winter storm and broke through the nearby house roof.

Shall I have mine cut down ( I'd hate to do that) or might there have been a problem with that tree and I should think of it as an anomaly?

Maxwell Cohn

you know, Stephanie, if you get a hurricane rolling through from the right direction, it's possible that any tree could get snapped. Dawn redwood is no more or less strong than any tree. Look around the neighborhood ... how many snapped off trees to do see? Look around the vicinity ... how many really big, unsnapped dawn redwoods do you see?

One thing that "landscape guys" are really good at is scaring people and talking them out of their money so they can kill perfectly healthy trees.

BranDon Seiber

I love these trees. I definitely want more of the cultivars..

Ben

Can anyone tell me, at what "age" does the tree begin to produce cones? Or, is this a stupid question, and they produce cones immediately?

Maxwell Cohn

trees begin coning when they're mature and planted under the right conditions. There is no timeline.

K

What age is mature? I planted mine at one year old, five years ago. No cones but he is getting huge. When will he produce cones, please?

Jon

Many descriptions of the dawn redwood say it is hardy Dow to Zone 4. I’m going to plant some in northern New Hampshire and test it. Does anyone know of trees surviving in this cold zone?

Mark

I tried to germinate a handful of these from seed using a small "window garden propagation kit" from Amazon, with the intent to train as bonsai trees. I had seedings pop up in about 7-10 days and well formed cotyledons, but they never got true leaves...just started wilting away...out of 5 successful sprouts, they've all died.

They're not actually IN a window, they're on a counter in my home office, away from drafts. The temperature in the room is consistent.

I've considered the following factors to blame, and am not sure which I'll need to correct before trying again.
* Soil too damp (the formed tray of the window garden sits atop a water tray, and the soil is always quite damp)
* Not enough light (using a GE Br30 Full Spectrum growlight LED bulb 14hrs per day)
* Wrong temperature (soil is approx 70 degrees)

I have purchased a starter tray warming pad if my temps were too low, but would like advice on what temperature to keep things at if this is a culprit. I would also like to mention that I have also started Colorado Blue Spruce, Japanese Black Pine, and Black Spruce in a neighboring starter tray, and they're all thriving.

Thanks in advance for any advice!!

- Mark

Tom Ouimet

My approach to growing Dawn Redwoods from seeds…

Seed collection
I collect the “green” cones as soon as they fall off the tree and place them in a small paper bag and hang them in my outdoor shed to overwinter (cold treat the seeds to activate them). The cones dry out, open up and the seeds fall out during this time. I simply shake the bag to knock out all the seeds and then remove the open, empty cones.
Seed germination
In March I place potting soil in two 72 count seed starter trays and sprinkle 5+ seeds in each, adding a little potting soil on top of the seeds. I place these in a tray and always keep water in the tray. I keep a plastic cover over the seed trays and place them under a grow light in my basement (~65 F). The seeds love water I will continually add water to the trays as needed and never shut off the grow lights. I will get some algae growth but does not seem to bother them.

Note: the germination rate was much lower when the potting soil was less wet and when I try to grow them by a southern-facing window. Also, when I tried to grow them by a window they leaned toward the light and grew taller and more fragile.

At about mid-May the sprouts will be about an inch tall, and I will move them around, so I have one in each cell. I will get rid of the weaker ones. I keep them under the grow lights (24 hours on) and keep the plastic cover on in the basement and they grow straight up and add leaves quickly. I keep the soil saturated.

Tree transplant & first winter
In late June (ish) they start pushing up against the plastic cover and I remove all the trees (cells) and transplant them into 4” plastic pots. I place half of these under the grow lights in the basement (24 hours on) and half outside in a protected area (I don’t have enough room under the grow lights). I keep the soil saturated (pots are sitting in water). I have found the trees under the grow lights are about twice as big as those outside by early September when I move them outside to begin acclimating. In Mid-October I place all the trees in the soil together by burying the plastic pots and then place a 6ft by 2ft plastic greenhouse topper (made for raised beds) over them. This is where they over winter.

Note: For the first four years I did not place the plastic greenhouse over the young trees, and I lost about 50% of them over their first winter (I have no clue why). The last two years (with the greenhouse) I have lost almost no trees over their first winter.

In late spring, around May, I will dig up the trees/pots and place them in trays in a sunny location. I keep water in the trays (they love water) and begin planting them. They need water for a couple of years until their roots spread.

Shellie

I"m wondering if the dawn redwood tree is at all allelopathic -- will it kill plants that are growing underneath it?

Bonnie Dalzell

I am in Maryland, north of Baltimore. I planted two dawn redwoods in 1982 that I got from a local nursery. They were three feet tall (more or less). I planted them I am area near an old cesspool, surrounded by some mature trees including an enormous catalpa and a number of white maples. This is an area that gets grey water runoff from my dog kennel building. They were a bit slow to grow at first but in the last 6 years since they outgrew the catalpa, and have really taken off. I am not sure how tall they are but I think at least 70 feet. I purchased one and the nursery gave me the second one because the base of its trunk looked like it was tied into a knot. That has not prevented “Knotty” from growing into a wonderful tree. My disappointment is that I get very few cones and have not seen any seedlings. I have two degrees in Paleontology so I like to be with my trees and pretend the circling vultures are pterodactyls.

Louis M.Sc. Varricchio

I have two 20-year-old dawn redwoods, maybe 30 feet each, growing in Zone 5 in western Vermont. They came from a New Jersey nursery in the 1990s. I have only started seeing cones in the past few years. I was told these trees are all clones and thus seed is not viable, but reading here someone sprouted seedlings? That is good news to hear! Survives our cold winters. In a wet location they love. The danger is late frosts when the tree is setting new foliage.

Michael

I planted two Dawn's last spring, both were about 12 inches tall, one grew 4 feet by fall. The Other One was chewed by assumption, by a rabbit and did not grew more than 1 foot. I put wire fence around these and it kept the rabbit out of there. There is a 100 plus foot Dawn in a yard a street away, and it must be the reason a little baby Dawn popped up in my back yard. I now have three Dawns growing. I am in Rockville Maryland, they love water apparently. I also planted three Sequoias in my back yard and they are doing very well. We shall see how they all survive their first winter, I trust they will all make it. I know in my 16,000 square foot lot that along with many other trees I have planted, all these redwoods is complete overkill, but so what. I can trim them and keep them manageable. If they grow to all be monsters then, the next generation will do as they please. At the rate people in my neighborhood cut down trees like they are blades of grass, I am doing my part to help mother earth.

Dan

I have a metasequoia glyptostoboides I bought from a local nursery several years ago and it does not seem happy.
My land is rocky glacial till south of the Olympic range in Washington. Every year it seem the leaves look sunburned.
I have it on a drip system and water it daily throughout the summer. How should I be caring for this tree. all my other conifers are doing well

Jim

During our annual late spring venture to our local, favorite nursery...oh, probably 25 years ago now...back in the corner amongst a few other not-so-healthy looking saplings was this one sapling that instantly made me think of Charlie Brown, and his little Christmas tree. It was almost 5 feet tall, with a reddish bark trunk as thick as a nickel, and the coolest leaves I ever saw. I had no idea what it was, but I planted it in the backyard and designed a little walkway and garden around it. I am happy to report all this time later that my little Charlie Brown tree is now well over 50 feet tall, with a buttressed trunk approaching 4 feet across. She has grown to completely obliterate the little garden and walkway I built for her LOL, as well as quietly letting us know some of the sidewalk needs relocated, because it's in her way. Those bright green 'needles' come back in force every spring, and she is magnificent all summer long. I live in southwestern Penssylvania, and it's obvious our soil and climate are optimal for this excellent example of the metasequoia!

Jimmie Womble

I plan on starting some of these in a shallow dish. Keep them pruned and stunted, with a few plastic dinosaurs at the base of them. Cretaceous bonsai.

Peter Dwillies

We live in zone 8A...in the middle of the eastern side of wet Vancouver Island. We have (2) 8 yr old Metasequoias 1 in the front yard and 1 in the back yard. The front Meta has approx an 8in base trunk dia. in average soil. The back Meta has about a 10in base dia. in what may have been an older veg. garden. Both trees are about 20ft (+ or -) tall with skinny 6ft branchless top leaders terminating in a small scruffy top knot. The back Meta has convoluted brittle branches that reach out up to 10ft from the trunk. Both trees appear to grow their arms outward but seem to have no further interest in growing any taller. About a week ago we had an early wet snow event which resulted in the front tree loosing 5' of her main leader and the back tree bending down almost to the ground in what looks like a permanent set. Here are my questions: (A) Can you prune branches to limit their spread? (B) Will Metas back bud? (C) Will Metas develope new leaders to replace lost leaders like most conifers do? (D) How can you stimulate more upward growth or is the upside down icecream cone look all there is?

Tom Casten

We moved to Hinsdale IL in 2000 and discovered a Metasequoia across the street that had been planted around 1952. It had a breast-level diameter of 38 inches and was about 120 feet tall. Seven years ago the 1883-built house was torn down and the tree cut to make room for a McMansion. I secured the logs and stump, had the logs sawed, and stickered the wood to dry. The wood is very lightweight, has incredible grain patterns of red and white, and made gorgeous waterfall end tables, children's beds, and now an urn for the ashes of my long-time friend.