When you think of a coniferous tree, what do you think of? Pines, firs and spruces are the trees that probably come to mind first. What characteristics of those trees in particular, stick out to you most? Your list might include needles, instead of true leaves, and cones. Another characteristic might be that the trees are always green, a true evergreen. An interesting member of that family, that is not always green is Metasequoia glyptostroboides or Dawn Redwood. These trees are deciduous conifers, meaning they lose their leaves (or in this case needles) annually. Evergreen conifers eventually lose their needles, but not all at once and the cycle to maturation is longer than one year. When the Dawn Redwood enters Autumn as it prepares to drop that season’s growth, it’s deep green needles transition to a brilliant bronze making it a real eye catcher.

The oldest Redwood in the Public Garden

Right now, in the Public Garden, we have four of these trees and they’re beginning to display signs of activity. Their buds are pushing out new needles after their winter dormancy; including a young cultivar, ‘Gold Rush’ (buds pictured). This specific specimen is found on the Charles/Beacon corner of the Lagoon near an older sibling across the path (also pictured) planted in 1963 – one of the most beloved trees in the Garden!. These trees are quick growers and at maturity can grow upwards of 100′ tall.

The Dawn Redwood is the only living representative of its Genus, Metasequoia, though not discovered by modern botanists in the wild until the 1940’s. As written about by the Arnold Arboretum, “The first dawn redwood seeds ever to journey out of China arrived in Jamaica Plain in early 1948.” This article discusses its introduction to the west in the 1940’s and the importance of the timing of discovery, prior to the Chinese Revolution and its isolation from the West. While the Dawn Redwood is relatively new to the United States, it is has been found in fossil records dating back as far as 50 million years!

Related trees in the Public Garden, similar to the Dawn Redwood are four Taxodium distichum or Bald Cypress (which is also deciduous) and of course the Sequoiadendron giganteum or Giant Redwood. The Bald Cypress can be found right across the path from one of the Dawn Redwood trees on the Boylston St. end of the Lagoon. The Giant Redwood can be found near the Ducklings. See Map for all species locations listed in this post!

Other deciduous conifers in the Public Garden are the Larches. The five representatives are Larix laricina the American Larch, L. kaempferi the Japanese Larch, L. decidua the European Larch, and Pseudolarix kaempferi the Golden Larch.

The siblings – younger Redwood in foreground, older Redwood in background, slightly to the left (tallest tree pictured)

Budding ‘Gold Rush’ cultivar