Metasequoia revised for web

The metasequoia tree is a gorgeous tree – beautiful light green in summer and golden yellow (you can’t see it so well in this picture because I took it at sunset).

Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) are a coniferous tree with a fascinating paleontological history. They are a deciduous conifer, dropping their needles every fall, turning a beautiful copper color. Growing well over 100 feet tall, they have a conical, uniform shape with a fine, airy textured leaf. They are an endangered species in the Cupressaceae family like Sequoias and Cypresses. It was thought to be extinct until living fossils were discovered quite recently.

History: For hundreds of years, scientists found Redwood-like fossils in China, Japan, Eastern Siberia, Central Asia, and North America dating back 90 million years. In 1941 a Japanese scientist named Shigeru Miki made a significant paleobotanical discovery. While studying an extraordinarily well preserved ancient Japanese tree fossil, he doubted it was a Coastal Redwood. He created the first genus for an extinct plant, and named the fossil ‘Metasequoia glyptostroboides’. It was assumed that the Metasequoia had been extinct for millions of years.

In the same year, a second discovery was made. An uncertain and shaky Chinese government had moved into the wild interior of China following the Japanese invasion. As Professor T. Kan of the National Central University (NCU) was walking through a remote town within this interior, he noticed a very unusual and dynamic tree. Not only was this tree unique from a botanical perspective, but it had a small tile shrine built at the base of it. The villagers in this small town called Modaoqi said that they believed a god lived within this very old tree. He noted that specimens of this tree that looked something like a Chinese cypress needed to be collected.

Three years later specimens were collected, and brought to Prof. W. C. Cheng of the NCU. He also agreed that they were unusual, and brought them to the renowned botanical expert, Dr. H. H. Hu, in 1946. Dr. Hu, who trained at Harvard, was immediately impressed by the specimen. He studied it closely, and realized the similarities it had to the new ‘Metasequoia’ discovery five years prior. He checked over the papers again, and then confirmed the discovery. A living Metasequoia had been found, a mere five years after the genus – assumed to be extinct – was discovered.

Dr. Hu informed famous botanists and Professors from around the world, including Dr. Merrill, the Director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Dr. Merrill, an Asiatic botany enthusiast, asked for an exploratory grant. Within a year seeds were acquired from this tall tree at Modaoqi, known as the “type” tree. The seeds were sent from China to the Arnold, and from there to nearly 100 institutions and persons worldwide, mostly in the U.S. This happened just before China’s Communist Party took power, ending trade relations between China and the United States. Had this discovery happened five years later, Metasequoias would not be as old as they are in the U.S. today. Now there are specimens grown all over the world, including many public parks in Japan such as this.


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