Did you know that Boardman Park, the Green Oasis, offers visitors the chance to see a living fossil? No, it isn’t a topiary of a dinosaur. The living fossil is the tree Dawn Redwood, or Metasequoia Glyptostroboides.
From fossil data, the Dawn Redwood is known to have existed as many as 50 million years ago. It is the sole living member of the genus Metasequoia, which literally means ‘almost a sequoia.’
The Dawn Redwood is closely related to the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and the Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). All redwoods are cone-bearing trees and get their common name from their reddish-brown bark and heartwood.
The Dawn Redwood is a large, fast-growing, deciduous (the tree loses its leaves in the fall), pyramidal evergreen tree that grows up to 100 feet tall with attractive, feathery foliage. It has spreading branches that droop with age. New growth is light green, maturing to a deep green in the summer, and eventually turning red-bronze and falling off in autumn. While the bark and foliage of the Dawn Redwoods are similar to the other redwoods, it is distinct in that it is deciduous and develops a widened trunk-base as it matures. It is the shortest of the Redwoods. The tree prefers moist, deep, well-drained soils that are slightly acidic. It is tolerant of wet soils and has minimal pest and disease problems.
This tree was once one of the most widespread tree species in the northern hemisphere during the Tertiary period (from 66 million to 2.6 million years ago). The Dawn Redwood was first described in 1941 based only on fossil evidence. It was believed to have been extinct for millions of years.
However, six years later in 1947, during an expedition to Southwest China, T. Kan, a Chinese forester of Beijing National Central University, found three strange deciduous trees he had never seen before. These trees were found to belong to the fossil species of Dawn Redwood. The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University made arrangements to collect seeds from the discovery site. The seedlings grown from these seeds were then distributed to universities and arboreta around the world in an attempt to preserve the species.
In 2012 Boardman Park was very fortunate to be the proud recipient of ten Dawn Redwood trees that were most graciously donated by the late Clarence R. Smith Jr.
Mr. Smith, who had a deep appreciation for the beauty of the natural world and was quite knowledgeable about plants and landscaping, sadly passed away in April of 2021, at the age of 93. It is definitely a tremendous benefit to have these beautiful and unusual specimens added to the landscape of the Boardman Park.
This article, by Daniel Slagle, executive director of Boardman Park, is one of several stories The Boardman News will provide this year as the park observes its 75th anniversary. This article is being republished with the permission of the Boardman News.