A Profile of the Dawn Redwood Landscape Tree

Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), March
Joshua McCullough/Photolibrary/Getty Images

The various species of sequoia trees are the largest trees in the world. The most famous members of the family are the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervires) and the giant sequoia (Sequoiadenron giganteum) of California, but neither of those trees is commonly planted for landscape purposes. However, the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is often planted in landscape applications. Although it is too big for most private gardens, it can be a wonderful addition in public parks, as a boulevard tree, or in large estates or farms. This tree was given the Award of Garden Merit by Britain's  Royal Horticultural Society.

Overview of Dawn Redwood

Dawn redwood is one of only a few deciduous conifers—these trees have conifer needles rather than leaves, but instead of keeping them year-round, the needles turn color and are shed in autumn, just like broadleaf trees. Dawn redwood is often confused with common bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). The needles on dawn redwood are opposite, meaning directly across from each other, while bald cypress is alternate (staggered).

Dawn redwood is considered a "living fossil." It dates from prehistoric times and once was thought to be extinct. However, it was discovered in China in 1941, and seeds were brought to North America, where it now grows again.

  • Latin name: The botanical name for this species is Metasequoia glyptostroboides, and it is part of the Cupressaceae family. It is the only remaining species in the genus.
  • Common names: The name that you usually see associated with this tree is dawn redwood. It is sometimes also called metasequoia.
  • USDA hardiness zones: You can plant these in Zones 4-8, though it may have a harder time in the colder areas. It is native to China.
  • Size and shape: The dawn redwood rapidly grows to 75-100 feet or taller and 15-25 feet wide with a pyramidal shape. Specimens as tall as 200 feet have been identified. 
  • Exposure: This tree should be planted in full sun for best growth.
  • Opposite needles are approximately .5 inch long. They turn shades of reds and browns in autumn before falling.
  • Male pollen cones are formed on chains and appear at the start of spring. The fruit is a 1-inch  female oval cone, making this one of the deciduous conifers.

Growing the Dawn Redwood

This is a large, fast-growing tree. If you have enough space for it, this works well as a shade or street tree. It is also well suited to areas such as parks, university campuses, and commercial landscapes.

Grow the dawn redwood in moist, well-drained soil. It does not do well if grown in alkaline or dry soils. If your spot is somewhat alkaline, there are methods to make your soil acidic, though you may need to repeat this, and the difficulty of changing the pH increases if it is quite alkaline. 

This tree can be susceptible to frost damage, as it grows until late in the season and may be caught by early chills. Try to find a spot that can offer some shelter from the elements, if possible.

Propagation is with stratified seeds and cuttings.

Tree Maintenance

Dawn redwood naturally forms into a pyramidal shape, so little pruning is needed other than the customary removal of dead, diseased and damaged branches. Japanese beetles and spider mites can be problems associated with this tree, but the damage is usually cosmetic and not life-threatening. Dawn redwood generally does not have many disease problems.