Most people know this by its common name, the Dawn Redwood, though this can cause a little confusion if you mentally associate the massive redwoods with North America. Those are the sequoia and sequoiadendron whereas the metasequoia is a Chinese plant (though botanically related). It wasn’t even identified and recorded until the 1940s, which is very late in the piece for botanical discoveries, certainly of something that large. For it is a very large tree – this specimen must be nigh on 30 metres now. We understand this specimen was planted in the mid 1950s here. Seed was sent from China to the Arnold Arboretum in the USA in 1948, just before China closed its borders for decades, and the arboretum then dispersed it around the world to ensure the survival of the species. So our tree must be one of the older ones in cultivation outside its native habitat, though is a mere baby for what is a very long-lived tree.
The other aspects that make this tree really interesting are that it is a conifer (bears cones) but it is deciduous. There are very few deciduous conifers. The leaves are turning colour now and will fall soon. In spring, the fine, feathery foliage (described as pinnate) emerges in bright green and garden visitors invariably ask us to identify the tree. It also has magnificent shaggy brown bark which is wonderfully tactile. It is just not a tree for suburban back yards but where space allows, it is a most handsome landscape specimen. It likes adequate moisture and we have it growing by a stream, but it is not as tolerant of wet roots as the other deciduous conifers, the taxodiums and glyptostrobus.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.