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The Deciduous Redwood

The Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboidesis) is a coniferous tree with reddish fibrous bark. It will grow 70 to 100 feet tall and have a conical crown with horizontal branches like our own redwoods. Its feathery foliage emerges light green in spring, changing to dark green in summer, then russet-brown in autumn. This deciduous tree drops its needles every autumn—unusual for a conifer. They were fairly common in North America, Europe and Asia over 60 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed Earth and were thought to be extinct until they were discovered growing in central China in 1941.

Pacific Horticulture features an article on how the rediscovery of this tree was received by the world and describes how Carl S. English Jr, a horticulturalist for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, experimented with the Dawn redwood by planting them along the Chittenden Locks in Seattle in the 1960s. Click here to read more.

Dawn redwoods are native to a temperate region of China where it rains all year. They grow well in the Pacific Northwest but not in California unless they receive supplemental water during our long dry season. If you like the look of a redwood tree, consider planting an Incense cedar, (Calocedrus decurrens). These conifers have the conical crown, reddish fibrous bark and dark green leaves like a redwood, but grow well in Benicia on rainfall alone once established.

The top photo is of Dawn redwoods growing in the Bronx Botanical Garden taken by Ryan Somma via CC BY 2.0 DEED