Tree 34: Dawn Redwood
The Dawn Redwood is an unusual tree in many respects. For example, unlike most conifers, it loses its leaves in autumn. Perhaps more unusual, though, is the fact that until it was rediscovered in 1941 it was believed to have become extinct over 30 million years ago. Before that, it had been seen widely in fossils across the northern hemisphere dating back for at least the previous 100 million years. Not surprisingly, therefore, it is often referred to today as a ‘living fossil ‘.
The rediscovery was made in eastern Szechuan in China and it was another seven years before the first seeds were exported and shared around the world. So, whenever you see a Dawn Redwood you know that it will never be much more than 75 years old. It also means that the tree in Whirlow Brook Park was not part of the original planting but has been introduced since the City Council took over the management of the park.
The Dawn Redwood is a fast-growing tree in its early stages, reaching up to 20 metres in 20 years and has the advantage of being easily grown from cuttings. It is also very useful as it can grow well in dry soil and in urban environments where it can help to improve air quality when planted in parks and as street trees. It has been used in Sheffield in both settings. If you want to spot one as you walk around the city then look for the orange-brown fibrous bark, the fluted trunk (i.e. narrowing quickly from a broad base), and the soft, pale green fern-like leaves that turn an attractive russet brown before they fall in the autumn.
The Dawn Redwood is, in all its settings, a fine specimen tree that, against the odds, is still going strong after well over 100 million years. We regard our Dawn Redwood as a particularly fine specimen.