Continuing with the “Plant Biodiversity of China” series, here is a species we grow in UBC Botanical Garden. The first photograph is from 2002 or 2003, while the second was taken in January 2005 (I’ve added it for those of us currently experiencing summer conditions). The write-up for today’s entry is again courtesy of one of the students from Dr. David Brownstein‘s “Research in Environmental Geography” course, Eva Lillquist. A thank you to Eva for the work. Eva writes:
Metasequoia glyptostroboides (common name dawn redwood) is an ancient tree species that once existed in abundance worldwide. Due to glaciation, almost all Metasequoia were killed, with the exception of a few populations in a restricted area of central China. First discovered in the early 1940s, scientists Dr. Wanchun Cheng and Dr. Hsenhsu Hu later uncovered plants growing in several sites in the Sichuan, Hubei and Hunan regions of central China. Prior to the discovery of living trees, Metasequoia was thought to be extinct, as it had only ever been encountered in fossilized form. As it was once nominated to be China’s national tree, Metasequoia glyptostroboides holds significance to the national identity of China.
In 1980, the Chinese Government deemed the Metasequoia glyptostroboides to be critically endangered in the wild (although the species has been cultivated in roughly 50 countries). Estimates suggest there are currently only 5,400 trees still living in central China.
Efforts for conservation have been concentrated within Hubei, where the largest number of dawn redwoods reside. Conservation efforts, however, face challenges: due to population growth and an increased need for land development, habitat loss is a significant threat (particularly from rice cultivation). Another hurdle for conservation is the considerable debate about why Metasequoia glyptostroboides is endangered. While conservationists argue that the species has reached near extinction due to human disturbance, others, particularly those employed in the logging and wood harvesting industries, argue that numbers of trees are declining due to natural causes, creating a rationale that does not support the future conservation of the species.
Currently, the Chinese government has made significant efforts to address immediate conservation problems through policy work and the creation of protected wilderness areas. However, due to conflicting views about the use of land, and the use of Metasequoia wood for construction, the government must now focus on gathering greater support from different parties, including non-governmental organizations, stakeholders, and the public to generate awareness about threats to the species, the tree’s significance to science, biodiversity, and national identity, and how these issues link with local industrial practices.