The Dawn Redwood was considered extinct until rediscovered in the 1940s in China and reintroduced via the efforts of the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Seeds and seedlings were distributed to many public gardens and universities with trees now over 100’. Habit is soft, feathery, conical pyramidal, the needles bright green, turning rusty orange to brown in autumn. The needle-bearing branches, oppositely arranged, abscise in toto in fall. The opposite arrangement permits easy separation from Taxodium distichum, common baldcypress, with alternate branches and buds.
The bark is beautiful, rich reddish brown, slightly shedding in thin strips, the trunk is fluted with a braided appearance. Though deciduous, the unique branching and bark characteristics provide exquisite winter beauty. Tree bark glows rich saturated orange-red in the late afternoon winter sun. Single specimens, grouping and groves inspire. Excellent tree along streams and in moist soil areas. Extremely tolerant of excess moisture and I observed trees in standing water. The species is surprisingly well suited to drier soils once established. Growth is fast, easily 2 to 3’ per year, for the first 10 years, if provided reasonable care. Trees are wind-firm and resistant to breakage. Hardness is listed at zone 5 to 8.
The cones are similar to Sequoia sempervirens, ovoid, egg-shaped, ¾ to 11/4” long, with 14 to 28 scales, maturing in autumn and opening to shed the small, light brown, winged seeds. I have collected cones as they open, harvested seeds, stratified for 30 days, with excellent germination. Seedlings will grow 6’ high in a 3-gallon container in a single season (zone 8). Cuttings can also be rooted to perpetuate desirable traits.
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted outdoors in the fall or winter for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy at any time of the year.
1. Place the seeds in a plastic bag and seal it. Store the bag in a refrigerator for two months.
2. Fill a pot with potting soil.
3. Sow the seeds on the soil and cover them with a thin layer of soil.
4. Water the container and leave it to drain.
5. Put the pot in a warm, sunny area.
6. Water the pot regularly so that the soil is moist but not wet.
7. The seedlings can be transplanted when they are a few inches tall.