Metasequoia glyptostroboides

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.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Metasequoia glyptostroboides

25 responses to “Metasequoia glyptostroboides”

  1. Eric in SF

    This is a really regal tree. There are several specimens in local Bay Area botanical gardens as well as planted in Golden Gate Park.
    Some more photos:
    The leaves are particularly beautiful when backlit.

  2. AdoAnnie

    They look like giant ‘touch me nots’.

  3. luise h.

    I have this beautiful Tree in my Garden.The heatwave we had experienced caused it to drop all it’s leaves but they are returning from the bottom up.I am always delighted how very soft these leaves (that look like pine needles)really are to the touch.

  4. luise h.

    And let me add,the treebark makes this decideous Tree a real asset to the winter landscape.

  5. Justine M

    The first image conjures up Albizzia julibrissin to my mind’s eye. How tall do these get? Someone writes they are deciduous, but the January photo seems to show leaves? I’ll have to look for it during my next trip to UBC BG!

  6. Wendy Cutler

    I wondered about the snow photo too, as I remembered learning they’re deciduous and that’s why the needles all look so fresh and green in the spring. Wikipedia shows a photo from Victoria with red autumn foliage. So do the needles go red and then stay on till spring so the snow will have something to hang on to to keep the tree warm? There are a couple not too far from me in Stanley Park. You’d think I might have noticed what happens with them, but I’ve only learned to recognize them this year.

  7. wendy

    I don’t know why but I feel that if a tree population can be counted as individuals a case for endangered status is made. It seems especially clear when one considers its status as a natinal tree nomination. What is the national tree of China then?

  8. wendy

    I checked – it’s the Gingko. How difficult it must be to select just one tree from China’s wealth of flora.

  9. Irma in Sweden

    The only redeeming thing about winter is the way snow and hoar frost can turn nature into a black and white graphic print. It can show off the most amazing details and be so beautiful

  10. Chris

    It’s difficult to conceive how so many huge specimens growing throughout the world could have arisen in the last

  11. Bonnie

    I love those white trees. They look so cool. I wish I lived in them. (Instead of record heat, drought-ridden Virginia.)

  12. Toinette Lippe

    Here in New York City the Parks Department occasionally uses dawn redwoods as street trees and they (the dawn redwoods) are doing fine. There’s one a block from where I live and I saw quite a few in Queens when I worked on the citywide tree census a few years ago.

  13. ruth tomlinson

    dawn redwood grows well in nj, and i find seedlings every week. it is utterly bare in winter. it appears unfazed by the current drought and heat, in spite of a reputation as a big drinker.

  14. kate

    Beautiful trees! My dad planted one in lower Michigan 45 years ago, today the the tree must be over 200 feet tall. Impressive! The tall strait trunks were used for ship masts in bygone times.

  15. elizabeth a airhart

    beautiful beautiful tree with so many people
    trying to save this fine tree hopefully
    it will flourish here in the states
    oh i live in florida now it so hot we are indeed
    hotter then–i was born nj it does heat up in nj
    the pictures are just beautiful thank you all

  16. MaryH

    These are beautiful, & I would like to see them in person. Wendy Cutler: is that Stanley Park in Western Massachusetts? Thanks to all for sharing.

  17. Daniel Mosquin

    That’ll be the Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC, MaryH.
    I’ve found an image of an autumn tree after the foliage has dropped via the Univ. of Connecticut Plant Database.
    In the January photograph, you are seeing Vancouver’s often sticky-wet large-flaked snow clinging to the branches and thin twigs.

  18. Toinette Lippe

    I left a comment first thing this morning (NYC time) about dawn redwoods being used by NYC Parks Dept as street trees. Your site said that my comment had to be okayed by you but I’ve checked back many times today and it is not there. Did I do or say something wrong?

  19. Daniel Mosquin

    Toinette — your first comment was caught by the spam filter.
    I don’t receive emails for all comments (including those caught as spam) to BPotD as there is a true spam comment approximately every 5 minutes.
    Sorry — it seems to have just been one of those things where the spammers are misspelling c a s i n o as c a s i o n in order to bypass the filters, and the spam capture triggered on the use of the word occasionally. Also, the IP address you used when commenting seems to be listed at The combination of things led to it being tossed in the spam pile.

  20. elizabeth a airhart

    just this one more comment
    world war two was rageing at the time
    of the discovery of the trees
    the historcal background would be an aventure
    storey in and of itself thank you daniel

  21. Ron B

    If really 200′ tall the one specimen should be documented (after having been verified using a precision instrument such as a laser).
    Vancouver has at least one residential block lined with dawn redwoods, I’d look in Dr Straley’s Vancouver tree book to see if this and other dramatic plantings are indicated.

  22. harriss

    The gingko too has all but disappeared from its natural habitat, no? Two chinese state trees walking a fine line to become ubiquitous garden and street trees thus proving rather adaptable; an interesting parallel?

  23. Wendy Cutler

    Ron B: two blocks along Arbutus north of 32nd are mentioned in the Straley book. I’ve posted photos of them at

  24. Sarah Ng

    I was wondering if the trees planted on the west side of Willow Street south of 33rd avenue in Vancouver are Dawn Redwoods? They are of varying sizes but they seem to fit the description. They are right next to Eric Hamber Secondary.

  25. Denis

    I love my wife’s story about the acquaintance who thought these would make great Christmas trees and planted hundreds with the intent of growing them out and selling them as such.

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