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Metasequoia glyptostroboides - Growing Guide
Dawn redwood, Water fir
This is a deciduous coniferous tree which was believed to be merely an extinct fossil genus until it was rediscovered in China in 1944. Today it is widely grown in temperate climates as a beautiful ornamental tree which is not unlike Taxodium in appearance.
M. glyptostroboides thrives in damp conditions beside streams and waterways where its roots will not dry out. The first plant at Caerhays was located beside the lake some 50 years ago where it thrived to produce an irregular trunk with fibrous orange-brown bark. However our mistake was in growing it in partial shade rather than full sun. A mistake compounded when it was subsequently flattened by a nearby ilex oak.
The tree has leaves which grow in opposite pairs and are a fresh green with two light green bands underneath. In autumn the leaves turn golden or reddish-brown and this contrasts well with the bark on the trunk. In maturity Metasequoia are dioecious and will produce ovoid dark brown female cones on stalks and long pendant spherical brown male cones which are smaller than the female ones at ¼-½in in length.
In good conditions in Cornwall the tree has achieved 70ft or more in height but, in drier sites, 30-40ft may be more realistic. Propagation from semi-ripe summer cuttings is fairly easy with bottom heat. Hardwood cuttings set in the cold frame in late autumn are perhaps more difficult but certainly achievable. If you are fortunate enough to obtain seed these should be sown in a cold frame in the autumn.
Today we can offer two named forms of M. glyptostroboides which are even more beautiful than the species itself:
‘Gold Rush’ has soft yellow foliage which retains its colour right through the year but is particularly striking as it emerges in the spring. With us this grows in full sun and ‘glistens’ against a darker evergreen oak background.
‘Amber Glow’ has bronzy green foliage and, when you look closely, each leaflet has a brownish orange stripe. The overall effect of this plant on the drive at Caerhays is quite stunning set in a damp spot fronting a hedge of dark leaved Camellia x williamsii.