Greenwood Gardens

03 December 2021

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Living Fossils

Living Fossils


Greenwood Gardens is home to several stately Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Known colloquially as dawn redwoods, the trees have a fascinating history. The species was considered extinct and known only through fossil records found in North America, Europe and East Asia until 1941 when a Chinese forester, T. Kan, discovered a single tree growing in a remote valley in central China. Additional specimens were subsequently found in the same valley. News of the discovery created an international sensation and scientists from around the globe rushed to see the trees in person. Elmer Merrill, Director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, paid for the collection and shipment of several bushels of metasequoia seeds. After securing a share for the arboretum’s collections, he distributed seeds to botanic gardens, arboreta, and universities around the world, helping to ensure the tree’s conservation and introduction to both professional and amateur gardeners.

Greenwood’s dawn redwoods were planted by Peter Blanchard Jr. in the mid-1960s. The young trees, approximately 20 – 25 feet in height, arrived on flatbed trucks from the Childs Frick estate in Roslyn on Long Island (Adelaide Frick Blanchard’s childhood home). The metasequoias anchor each end of the main London Plane Allée and two punctuate the landscape at the base of the Cascade. Often referred to as “living fossils,” and admired for their handsome, conical shape and deeply fissured bark, the species existed as many as 50,000,000 years ago. They are deciduous conifers, shedding their leaves each year and producing abundant, small, seed bearing cones. Metasequoias grow rapidly and can reach over one hundred feet tall. The feathery, soft-to-the-touch foliage turns copper-gold in the fall and the bare branches create a fascinating silhouette against winter skies. In spring, fresh leaves emerge pale green and mature to a deeper hue by summer.

Notes from the Garden is published monthly on topics of nature, beauty, and history at Greenwood Gardens.