The Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptrostroboides) is a deciduous, coniferous tree that grows in a conical shape up to 200 feet. The tree is a relative of the Redwood tree (Sequoia) and the Bald cypress (Taxodium), which you can admire on the opposite side of the path. Foliage emerges light green in spring, matures to deep green in summer and turns red-bronze in fall. As the tree matures, the trunk broadens at the base and develops attractive and sometimes elaborate fluting. The tree features linear, feathery, fern-like foliage. The twigs, needles and cone scales are in opposite pairs. Genus name comes from the Greek words metra meaning “with, after, sharing, or changed in nature” and Sequoia relating to the fossil specimen which first described the plant. The specific epithet means resembling the genus Glyptostrobus.
Fossil records indicate the dawn redwood existed as many as 50 million years ago but was thought to be extinct. However, in 1941 a living Dawn redwood was discovered in Western China. Three years later, the Arnold Arboretum in Boston received seeds from the tree and distributed them to arboretums all over the world. This Marquand Park Dawn redwood was raised from this shipment of seeds by James Clark, then the Princeton University horticulturalist, and planted here in 1955. Other Dawn redwoods can be found on Prospect avenue and Princeton avenue, Princeton Nursery Lands in Kingston, and on the Princeton University campus.
Interestingly, the Dawn redwood occurs on a tree map of the park commissioned by the Garden club of Princeton in 1959. The tree must still have been very small at that time. The bald cypress does not occur on the map but on this spot a Korean fir is marked.
Common name: Dawn Redwood, Chinese Redwood, Deciduous Redwood
Scientific Name (family and order): Metasequoia glyptostroboides Hu & Cheng (Cupressaceae, Cupressales)
Species Origin: S.W. China
New Jersey Status: USDA Unreported
Habit: 60 -100’(130’) tall,22’ wide; bole 2 ½ – 4’ diameter; conical with straight trunk and branches extending to the ground.
Habitat: Zone 4 – 8; moist ground and riverbanks.
Trunk/Stem: Bark orange brown to red brown, peeling vertically in stringy flakes. Base of trunk deeply fluted and buttressing with age.
Leaves: Deciduous (shoots with leaves attached), Simple, Opposite. Linear leaves 1” long, soft,flattened, 2-ranked (distichous), emerging early, pale green becoming dark green, arranged opposite on short deciduous side and arranged spirally on persistent shoots. Leaves turn yellow, pink or red in autumn. The leafed twigs, 3 ½” long have many small leaves.
Flowers: Monoecious. Male flowers yellow, female green in separate clusters on young shoots same plant.
Fruits and seeds: Rounded cone, honey-dipper in shape, 1” long on long stem; green, ripening to brown; blunt scales, maturing in December.