Curiosities on several levels, dawn redwoods (Metase quoia glyptostroboides, Zone 5) produce cones and soft, needle-like leaves that resemble those of evergreen hemlocks. But unlike evergreen conifers, dawn red-wood needles turn orange-brown in autumn and drop to the ground. They belong to a small group of trees known as “deciduous conifers”; the closely related baldcypress (Taxodium disti chum) and larches (Larix spp.) display the same eccentricity.
Fast-growing dawn redwoods have a dense, pyramidal habit that makes them an ideal seasonal screen or a stately focal point. Maturing at about 20 metres tall by eight metres wide, they grow best in a full sun location in rich, well-drained soil, but can cope with periodic flooding. The pollution tolerant tree, dawn redwoods have no serious disease pests, although Japanese beetles may feed on their foliage.
Dawn redwoods stretch back a staggering 100 million years. They became extinct in North America about 15 million years ago and were previously identified only from fossil remains, but in 1941 a Chinese forestry professor found a stand of live trees growing beside a rice paddy in Sichuan. Just 73 years later, dawn redwoods are found in home gardens everywhere; we especially love Gold Rush (M. g. ‘Golden Oji’) for its striking yellow needles.