Dawn Redwood

Sunday, 05 May 2013 17:51

My interest in horticulture began on a cross-country road trip with a high school friend in 1973. Nancy Jansch, and I had been planning the trip ever since her graduation the year before. In order to earn money for our adventure Nancy worked days for County Line Nursery, while I worked nights at a local factory. The day after my June graduation, we loaded up Nancy's VW Bug with camping gear, two guitars, a Golden Gate Passport and headed west.

After a year working in the nursery Nancy spoke a different language, Latin, the language of plants. At Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario she showed me Abies balsamea with its short dark needles. Pinus ponderosa shadowed the Black Hills of South Dakota. I remember the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean. We were driving through a thick tunnel of Sequoia sempervirens, then the sky opened up, and below us crashed the Pacific. The Sequoias seemed to grow right into the ocean.

Who could forget the beautiful feathery foliage and tall furrowed trunks as we lay sleeping under the California Sequoias? These trees thrive on high atmospheric moisture and will never perform as well here in eastern states as in they do in the northwest and the British Isles. But don’t be disheartened, for here in the east we can grow a Sequoia-like tree. In fact its name, Metasequoia means just that.

The Dawn Redwood or Metasequoia glyptostroboides, may look like a California Redwood but it is the only living species in its genus. Dawn Redwoods are deciduous conifers. In other words, they have needle-like leaves that turn a bronzy orange in the fall. The needles drop from the tree then leaf out new in spring. California Redwoods are true evergreens and do not lose their needles.  

Though dominium in size compared to the Giant Sequoias, the Dawn Redwood is a fast grower known to reach 40 to 50 feet in 20 years with a 10 to 12 foot spread under ideal growing conditions. Its mature size is 70 – 100 feet tall by 25 feet wide. Fossils date the Dawn Redwood to more than 50,000,000 years ago. It was thought to be extinct until 1941 when it was rediscovered in China. Since then it has become a specimen tree used in east coast gardens where space allows.

Last week, I had the perfect opportunity to use a Dawn Redwood. I redesigned a 2.15 acre property where Imprelis herbicide killed or damaged more than 20 mature White Pine trees that buffered the residents from traffic, neighbors and noise. You would think these poor people are beside themselves with grief, but NO! DuPont, the makers of Imprelis, have granted affected homeowners generous settlements to replace the damaged trees. Michael and Sherri are garden enthusiasts and were thrilled to replace the old builder grade tree lines with interesting new trees, shrubs and perennials. It was so much fun working with them to create a new garden that after I finished the design I thought about one last special tree, a Dawn Redwood. They were so excited about the prospects of growing a Redwood that we all walked out to the place where the tree would stand; its own large lawn away from the dying pines. This tree will bring grace, beauty and hope to a recovering garden.

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