My Favorite Conifer
I grew up in the deserts of Arizona and rarely saw large trees. Arizona does have vast pine forests but the trees are rarely taller than 50 feet. So when I moved to Virginia after college I thought I was in tree heaven. There are mixed forests of White Oaks, Yellow Poplars, Sycamores, and Hemlocks all reaching 100 feet or more.
When my wife Michelle and I purchased our new home the developer had planted only one small Flowering Cherry tree in the front yard. I quickly got out the catalogs (pre internet commerce) and began ordering trees. One selection I made was Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood). I was very disappointed with the little broken bare rooted stick that arrived a few weeks later. I stuck it in the corner of our backyard and basically ignored it. Twenty years later that broken stick had grown to 60 feet and produced an abundance of seed from which I grew over 100 trees. I certainly have a favorite conifer.
The history of Dawn Redwood is fascinating but has been told so many times by so many people that it has numerous versions. The version I believe to be the most accurate follows. A Japanese scientist named S. Miki was studying an ancient Japanese tree fossil in 1941 and realized that this was a unique unnamed tree that he thought was extinct for millions of years. He created a new genus and named the fossil Metasequoia glyptostroboides.
Here is where the story begins to get confusing because several people lay claim to having discovered Metasequoia glyptostroboides, probably for professional recognition. In 1943 a Chinese professor C. Wang collected specimens from an unusual tree in Moudao (Modaoqi), China that the local villagers referred to as shui-sa (water fir). He identified these specimens as Glyptostrobus pensilis. The specimens went through several hands before reaching W.C. Cheng who realized that they were incorrectly identified and something completely new. Cheng had more specimens collected from Moudao and sent them to H. Hu who matched them to the fossil genus Metasequoia glyptostroboides published by Miki in 1941. Hu published his findings in 1946 in The Bulletin of the Geological Society of China.
Hu began contacting botanists around the world including E.D. Merrill of Harvard and Ralph Cheney of the University of California, Berkeley. These two men began a lifelong feud over who introduced Metasequoia glyptostroboides to the U.S.. Merrill sent Hu $250 American ( $10,000,000 Chinese, there was rampant inflation in China) to fund an expedition to collect seed. In 1948 both Hu and Cheng sent large shipments of seed to Merrill who immediately distributed them to individuals, Universities and Arboretums worldwide. It is amazing that any seed ever got to the U.S. because there was a civil war raging in China at the time. Cheney and Milton Silverman, a science reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, were the first Americans to visit China in 1948 and actually see the trees. Cheney named Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Dawn Redwood’ to make Silverman’s stories more acceptable to the Chronicle’s readers. Cheney later claimed that he returned with 25,000 seeds despite his trip being in spring when no mature seed could have been collected.
Today there are thousands of Dawn Redwoods in the U.S. with a few approaching 150 ft in height and 5 ft in diameter. Despite it’s worldwide distribution Metasequoia glyptostroboides is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List with only 1000 to 5000 mature trees living in the wild, most in central China.
This entry was posted on July 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm and is filed under Metasequoia Glyptostroboides with tags dawn redwood, favorite conifer, Greg Wentzel, metasequoia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.