What is a Dawn Redwood?

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  • Written By: Helga George
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2019
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A dawn redwood is a majestic tree that grows in the shape of a pyramid up to 100 feet (30 m) tall. This deciduous tree was thought to be extinct, but was rediscovered in a Chinese valley in the 1940s. Known scientifically as Metasequoia glyptostrobiodes, it resembles its close relative, the bald cypress. Both are in the family Taxodiaceae. The dawn redwood is a fast-growing tree that grows best in slightly acidic, moist soil.

Fossils of the dawn redwood were known as far back as 1855, but they were thought to be those of the bald cypress. It was not until 1946 that the fossils were reclassified as a species of Metasequoia. When living specimens of the tree were discovered in China in the late 1940s, U.S. scientists were dispatched from Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. They then collected seeds for distribution, before China became closed to the Western world for several decades. The tree was then subsequently grown commercially.

The dawn redwood grows in a variety of climates, except for tropical and extremely cold areas. It grows rapidly, reaching as much as 25 feet (7.5 m) tall in about ten years. The tree can spread to be 15-25 feet (4.5-7.5 m) wide. It is remarkably resistant to pests and diseases.


These plants naturally grow to be a perfect pyramid shape, and require little or no pruning. The base of the trunk is usually brown to orange-red. The bark shreds and has fissures. Needles are typically less than 2-inches (5 cm) long. They turn orange and yellow in the fall, before dropping from the tree.

A dawn redwood requires full sun. It will tolerate a range of soils, including clay, but the soil should be well-drained. Preferably, the soil should also be moist. One is cautioned not to plant in soil that has a high pH.

There is some discrepancy about the degree of drought-tolerance of this tree. Descriptions range from claiming moderate drought resistance to warning that it cannot tolerate dry locations. It is recommended to have an irrigation system to water dawn redwood trees if one lives in an area prone to drought.

This deciduous tree is used in some highway medians and parking lot islands. It makes an excellent natural privacy screen. The dawn redwood may be too large for many suburban yards, however. There is a cultivar, known as National, that only grows to 85 feet (25.5 m) tall. It has less of a pyramidal shape than the main species, and thus less of a spread, allowing the tree to grow in smaller areas.

The dawn redwood is widely grown around the world. Despite the abundance of this ornamental tree, it is generally considered critically endangered. This is mainly due to dwindling numbers of wild specimens in its native habitat in China, due to habitat loss.



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