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Living Fossil: The Dawn Redwood Tree

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If you choose to wander around the south end of High Park, near Grenadier Pond, you might walk by a couple of tall trees that happen to be a fan favourite…

The Dawn Redwoods!

With their feathery bright green leaves and small rounded cones, you might be surprised to learn that these deciduous conifers are, in fact, living fossils!

From fossil data, Dawn Redwood trees are known to have existed since the Mesozoic era, which was a time period when dinosaurs roamed the Earth! They are the only living members of the genus Metasequoia, which means “almost a sequoia.” As you’ve probably already guessed, the name implies that the Dawn Redwood is closely related to Coast Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) and Giant Sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum).

The Dawn Redwood was first described in 1941 based only on that fossil evidence. At the time, this tree was thought to have been extinct for around 5 million years. This theory was proven to be wrong 6 years later in 1947, when a small stand of unidentified trees in Southwest China was found to belong to the already described fossil species.

From there, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University was sent out to collect some of the seeds from the discovery site. The seedlings were then distributed to universities and arboreta around the world in an attempt to preserve the species. This might explain how these trees got to High Park!

On your next visit to High Park, keep an eye out for this historic tree species!