The Dinosaur Tree

I don’t commit easily to large trees since I’m awfully greedy about the sunshine in my yard, but there’s one tree I had to have.  It was bought for the old house but I couldn’t leave it behind when we moved, so out of the ground it came again and up to the new house.  After twelve months in a temporary spot I moved it again to what hopefully will become its permanent location.  It glows in the back of the yard, and although I can’t get a decent picture of all its bright yellowness, I’ll post this picture anyway.

dawn redwood in the yard

My favorite tree, Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Ogon’ (Goldrush) growing in the backyard.

This tree is easy to grow in normal to damp soils, has few pests, and grows relatively fast.  It’s one of those weird ducks of the tree world, mainly a conifer that drops its needles every fall.  Metasequoia glyptostroboides is the full name and as the sequoia part indicates it’s a distant relative to the giant sequoias and redwoods of the west coast of N. America.  It’s common name is dawn redwood, and the cultivar I have is the golden needled “Ogon” which is usually sold under the name of “Goldrush”.  Butter-yellow is what I would call the needle color.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides ogon goldrush

In full sun Ogon’s needles take on a bright yellow, while interior needles keep a fresh chartreuse color.

I love the color.  The straight species is a cool tree too, but the yellow on this one wins me over completely (but I admit I’m a yellow-leaf-anything lover).  ‘Ogon’ is a Japanese selection and I think it means gold.  The original plant was selected from a batch of seedlings grown from irradiated seed… I guess that explains the glow 😉

goldrush dawn redwood

Looks great against the blue sky too 🙂

The species has an interesting history too.  It’s been called a dinosaur tree since for years it was believed extinct and only known through fossil records dating back to the age of the dinosaurs.  Living trees were only “discovered” in the 1940’s growing at Chinese temples and then later as wild groves in a few isolated areas.  Seeds and cuttings were collected, plants were grown, and now the tree is known throughout the globe (at least among tree lovers).

ogon metasequoia

On younger trees the bright yellow may fade to white in full sun, and then end up browning on the edges. My tree is doing fine in a dry spot, but they grow better with more water.

I think if I had more room, a nice grove of these would be about right.  My single tree has so much character and brightness I feel almost like it’s more of a pet than a plant, and I may or may not have talked to it at times.  If you ever get the chance to see older trees they develop a cool buttress at the base with deep ridges and fissures.  I think this only happens if you leave the lower branches on, and since mine will need to be limbed up (for more planting areas of course) I think I’ll end up with a smoother trunk.  Still nice in my opinion!

This post has me thinking about other cool trees.  If I could only get rid of the annoying red maples along the North property line I could put something nicer along there….. hmmm.   Any suggestions?

23 comments on “The Dinosaur Tree

  1. I am just like you, I too would have a grove of them. You are more courageous than me though, plus have a lot more room. When in SF, I just marveled at them. I have seen large ones in PA, but those out west are just amazing. Oh, saw some in NC too. Ogon is very pretty, the color brightens up any space. The Dawn Redwood is really a prize of a tree.

    • bittster says:

      I’m amazed by the west coast conifers, I saw a few babies in Oregon and Washington, but never the real giants…. something for the wish list.
      Sometimes a big part of courage is not understanding the consequences, so maybe I am courageous in my planting! Dawn redwoods don’t grow nearly as tall as the real redwoods, I’ll be lucky to see 100 feet. But that’s enough to make my yard look small. People don’t plant enough of the great trees anymore. I’d hate to see oaks and beech and hickories go out of style in favor of crabapples and Asian pears….. and I’m so bored with redmaples. What a rooty nightmare they are.

  2. pbmgarden says:

    Great tree. I’ve long admired Dawn Redwoods but it would be way too large for my garden. Hope it does well for you.

    • bittster says:

      You probably don’t need dawn redwoods! There are probably enough bald cypress around ad they are just as cool…. minus the bright yellow of course.

  3. Chloris says:

    Lovely tree, what a gorgeous butter yellow! I used to have the plain green one. It was a very elegant tree and such a good shape. But it was huge. You are going to have a massive yellow tree one day. I used to have a yellow garden,within my garden, except I called it my gold garden. I had a yellow, Catalpa bignoides ‘ Aurea’ which I pollarded so it had huge yellow leaves. I had Cornus Mas’Aurea’ Coggygria ‘ Golden Spirit’ , Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’ to name but a few. The flowers were all yellow or cream. It was all very- yellow. I’ ve moved now and I don’ t think I would make everything so yellow again. One yellow tree looks wonderful, a whole yellow garden looks a bit eccentric.
    But I may try a silver garden, except it would be grey really, so perhaps not.

    • bittster says:

      I think yellow will be the new purple 🙂 All those big old purple beeches might be replaced by huge yellow dawn redwoods in a hundred years or so!
      I’ve added far too many yellow foliage plants lately and your list sounds like even more good ideas. The sunburst honeylocust is so hard to find in anything other than a 8 foot tree, I really just want a little rooted cutting to grow on and keep heavily pruned….. forget about the catalpa.
      Really? Eccentric? I shall try to show restraint until the kids grow up and move out. I think then I will be able to indulge in some eccentricity without scaring the young ones.
      Good luck on the silver. Silver is entirely respectable.

      • Chloris says:

        I was only joking about the silver. I wouldn’ t really. It might be respectable but it’ s so 1980’s.

      • bittster says:

        I of course didn’t get the joke, this area of Pennsylvania has barely entered the 90’s and silver is still just being discovered. Last week someone mentioned a white garden, it seemed very cutting-edge 🙂

  4. Very interesting post on the dawn redwood, I was not really familiar with this tree. I agree that the color is really appealing, a kind of warm and cheerful yellow I don’t expect to see on a conifer.

    • bittster says:

      And there’s a nice rusty orange fall color…. and the bark peels off in reddish shreds…. and the trunk develops these cool ridges and bulges…. I’m not sure how the hardiness would be out by you.

  5. Cathy says:

    A lovely colour that really makes a statement. When you said it’s a conifer that drops its needles, I thought of Larch – one of my favourite trees. They have beautiful soft lime-green needles in spring and pretty flowers/cones too. And in autumn they turn golden yellow before dropping their needles. But they also get very big. I also love birches and willows, hazel and acer… there are so many possibilities!

    • bittster says:

      I don’t think you could go wrong with any of those! ….and the tree does look larch-ish. I guess someone figured out it’s more closely related to redwoods, though I’m not sure how since the needle dropping seems to be pointing in another direction.

  6. Annette says:

    Oh Frank, I’m also dreaming about having an arboretum…to think I could fill it with all my favourite trees, bliss! But then, the mules have a word or two to say in this matter! Thanks for this interesting post – I just saw a BBC documentary about trees and Metasequoia – awesome, people climbed up into them and it took them ages as they get so large. I’m looking forward to that post then in a couple of years and some nice pics of yourself on top 😉

    • bittster says:

      Without seeing the redwoods in person I can’t even imagine their size. I think I’ve seen that same video though! I always wonder how they film, must be via helicopter or something. It’s so amazing, although the heights would do me in.
      I could also easily fill an arboretum. Would you plant everything and anything or limit yourself? I’d love to see dozens of magnolias and beech and oaks, that would fill the first couple acres 🙂

      • Annette says:

        Yes, I love them too but then there are also beautiful Sorbus, Acer, Davidia…I have a clear vision, dear Frank 🙂 …just waiting for the right moment to introduce Monsieur to it.

  7. Christina says:

    Beautiful tree, and of course trees are less work than other plants so in the long term a great idea. I don’t have enough and I need the shade.

  8. Pauline says:

    Your tree is such a beautiful bright yellow, against your blue sky, it looks fantastic! Not enough people have big trees, I think they are worried about their drains or the trees falling on their house maybe!

    • bittster says:

      I never can understand people. They speed, run through stop signs, walk with a nose down in their phone…. yet planting a tree which may someday 90 years later fall -too risky!

  9. Warspite says:

    I must say yours looks excellent. Thanks for taking the time and effort to get out the word on one of my favorite trees.

    FWIW, they grow excellent in the St Louis area. Our Missouri Botanical Garden has a grove of them from what has to be the first batch brought back. The trees have to be 80 or 90 feet tall.

    One word of caution. My 30 foot main species Metasequoia defoliated during our record heat and drought in the summer of 2012. I just watered it with a sprinkler maybe 8 hours every 3rd night for the rest of the summer and it has recovered nicely. Many other trees suffered greatly as well but that one I am attached to!

    • bittster says:

      Hey Warspite, thanks for the comment. Hopefully I never have to go through a defoliation due to drought here, it’s dry but never as brutally hot as some parts of the country get. I think I may have followed your tree’s recovery…. toronado?
      The older ones are awesome. I hope to get back and see a few older plantings when I next visit my parents in NY but they’re not nearly as large as the St. Louis trees. A grove of them makes it even better!
      ‘Ogon’ is my number one tree. I can safely say I notice it every week, if not every day and even after 7 years have never second guessed planting it!

  10. dawn says:

    i love Ogon and planted it on my 90×90 lot .. everyone says i should move it or give it away.. i can not it is so beautiful and i wanted one from the first time i ever saw one…! should i move it further from the house? not sure where.. i have a pretty full garden now ..does it have a big root system that will take out all other plants.. keep reading controversial articles about that..when is it best to limb up the tree? the rule of thumb in south jersey by the shore everything grows 5 ft less due to the sand.. that’s what i’m hoping for..lol! it has grown quite alot since planting it early this summer.. please advise when is it best to relocate it fall or spring? my lot has many large trees on so will Ogon grow 100 ft and no other plants can live around them like understory in the woods? this is what i was hoping for and appreciate everyone’s advice to save, move, the most beautiful tree in my yard? thank you again for your advice

    • bittster says:

      I would absolutely keep it! Large trees on smaller lots used to be the norm and it’s only in the last few decades that I’ve seen so many concerns about trees close to the house. Back before central air a shaded house surrounded by large trees was a good thing… And I can’t remember ever hearing anything about trees crushing houses and people.
      I would keep the tree assuming it’s not right next to the house. The roots and shade may someday be a problem but I’ve seen mature plantings and as long as they’re somewhat limbed up planting underneath is no problem.
      I’ve started limbing mine up already by cutting lower branches back a bit here and there each summer. Once it gets tall enough to walk under I’ll remove the lower branches completely and hope for the best.
      I love my tree and wish you all the best with yours as well!

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