Most of my recent blog entries are about the new and exciting things that Marcy and I encounter on our travels. I have been so very busy lately and have found it difficult to create a blog entry and despite dozens of drafts about far-away places and interesting scenes, I settled on writing about the “exotic” dawn redwood trees located in my very own backyard.
I snapped this winter scene with my cell phone camera from the seat of my lawn tractor on the day that I was delivering trailer loads of Christmas decorations to my storage shed. I thought that the tree trunks made for a nice pattern against the cold winter sky and wanted to remember the look of the snow cover that is rare for our location. I have tended these trees now for almost 20 years and eighteen of them grace the backside of my yard here in Knox County, Tennessee. After some pondering, I figured that it was worth telling the backstory of how dawn redwoods became popular.
These trees are cousins to our giant sequoias and coastal redwoods of California and are a just bit smaller in mature height. Dawn redwoods are unique because they look like evergreens in summer but they are deciduous, much like the bald cypress. The lacy foliage turns bronze colored in autumn and then drops at the same time as their hardwood cousins. I understand that fossil evidence shows that they have been around for tens of thousands of years, but had disappeared until they were rediscovered in 1944 by a group of Chinese botanists in a small region of China. Declared to be a “living fossil” the dawn redwood was widely regarded to be the “greatest discovery in botany of the 20th century.” In 1948, Harvard University funded an expedition to collect seeds and distribute them to universities worldwide for trials. Today, the tree has become a popular choice for urban planting, especially in replacing fragile and messy Bradford pears.
Twenty years ago, I was spending a lot of time in Chattanooga, Tennessee for work and noticed some of these along the street. I noticed seedpods, and I waited until autumn when the pods began falling then collected a few to see if they might sprout — and sprout they did. I managed to hatch about 25 seedlings and after sharing a few, I wound up with the eighteen that are foresting my backyard.
These are wetlands trees and I have had to baby them with a lot of water during very dry periods, but after 20 years of growth, they are well on their way to their minimum height of 160 feet. I have trimmed the branches very high, and the grove that you see in the picture provides a nice, cool summer canopy!