Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
SW of the Alumni House
This interesting little tree is located at the extreme northern end of campus, near the Alumni House. Small though it certainly is today, it is only a baby. It won’t remain small forever; record specimens reach 200 ft. in height and nearly 10 ft. in diameter.
Two factors account for this species' interest and popularity. First, it is a "living fossil'; to the western world it was first known from needle and twig imprints in rocks as old as late Mesozoic (~ 100 million years ago). During the early Tertiary (65-45 million years ago, a time of extended global warmth), forests of Metasequoia covered vast areas of the northern hemisphere; fossil remains are found as far north as Axel Hedberg Land, currently at 80 degrees north latitude. In modern times it was believed to be extinct, until it was discovered growing in central China in 1941. Introduced into North America by Dr. Ralph Cheney, a paleobotanist from U. C., Berkeley, the dawn redwood since has been planted in places of honor in gardens and parks throughout the continent.
The aesthetic appeal of the dawn redwood lies in its foliage, which it loses every fall. Thus Metasequoia is one of a very short list of conifers that also are deciduous. In the spring its needles are a soft green color, and - according to some authorities - edible. (They taste like carrots, apparently). In the fall the needles assume a pleasing shade of red or orange, before falling in a heap to add purpose to the gardeners' day.
A particularly striking example of Metasequoia may be seen near the SE corner of the County Courthouse, in downtown Bellingham.