Westmount Park – Conifers


A version of this article appeared in the Westmount Independent, August 5th. 2014

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) also know as the “Fossil Tree”. The species is listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

This tree is adjacent to the children’s playground.

The species has a fascinating history: thought to be extinct for over 5 million years, it was rediscovered, in the 1940s , in China.

This is Cambridge University Botanic Garden’s version of the story:


“One of the most exciting discoveries in the plant world during the last century was undoubtedly that of the deciduous conifer, the Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

In 1946, acting on a tip-off and sight of some fragmentary material, Professor Cheng of the National Central University, China, sent an expedition to the remote village of Mo-tao-chi in Szechuan province to collect a complete set of specimens from a stand of recently-discovered, unidentified trees. After consultation with Dr Hu, China’s leading dendrologist, it became obvious that the trees belonged to the genus Metasequoia, hitherto only known from fossil evidence dating back 100 million years, and thought to have been extinct for 5 million years.

Seed was collected during a 1947 expedition sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston, USA, reaching its Director, Professor Elmer D Merrill in 1948, who then distributed the seed amongst botanic gardens in the USA and Europe for cultivation.

In nature, the Dawn Redwood is now restricted to just a few small and scattered stands in Hubei and Szechuan. The species is classified by the World Conservation Union as ‘critically endangered’ due to intensive rice cultivation and the poor prospect for regeneration in the wild.”


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