A friend asked me to recommend a large tree for his backyard the other day. The first tree that came to mind is dawn redwood (Metasequoia).
It’s a great tree. Though a little off the beaten path, I think it deserves to be grown more. It even has a fun history: Dawn redwood was officially discovered in 1941 — as a fossil. Later, an unknown tree was discovered in China. A few years after that scientists connected the dots and realized the fossil was the same tree as the new species they’d found! Dawn redwood seeds were collected and sent around the world. This once rare tree is now available to just about anyone who wants to grow it in their landscapes.
So why do I like this tree so much? Dawn redwood has soft, light green feathery needles that cast a lovely shade. It grows fast, though I’ve never found it to be particularly weak. (It’s one of the few trees in my yard that hasn’t lost branches in strong winds, ice storms, etc.)
Even better? It’s deciduous and the tiny needles break down fast, so there’s no need to rake in autumn! (By the way: If you’re curious about it’s fall color, dawn redwood turns a pleasant shade of russet red.) And it’s hardy — you can grow a dawn redwood in Minnesota, Maine, or Montana.
Dawn redwood isn’t for everyone, however: It’s large (it’s capable of reaching 100 feet tall!) and has a pyramid shape, so doesn’t look like your average maple or other more common shade tree. But if you’ve got room for it, dawn redwood makes a magnificent specimen. Just don’t try to use it as a winter windbreak…