Wednesday, November 14, 2012
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAWN REDWOOD
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAWN REDWOOD
Interviewed by Bob Gordon
Hello, Dawn. May I call you Dawn?
That’s OK. Dawn Redwood is my common name. But, ironically, as people get to know me better, they call me by my proper name, Metasequoia. It’s short for Metasequoia glyptostroboides.
Since this is my first interview with you, I’ll call you Dawn. You and your family have moved around quite a lot. Where are you living these days?
My immediate family came to the US from China in 1946. They were seeds brought here by an expedition from the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, who then gave the seeds to arboreta around the country. My family has an interesting history. My ancestors’ fossils had been discovered in the early 1940’s and we were thought to be extinct. But then a couple of years later, a small stand of the trees was discovered in a remote Chinese valley. Despite the excitement, World War II prevented much from happening until our move to Boston in 1946. Then there was another lull in activity as US-China relations chilled. In the 1980’s, after relations between the two countries improved, new seeds were brought to the US. That finally allowed greater genetic diversity among the Metasequoias in the US, since that first group of us all came from just a single collection.
You didn’t answer my question. Does that mean you’re practicing for a career in politics?
No, I just got sidetracked. Sorry. What was the question, anyway? Although I’m about 50 years old, which is certainly not over the hill for my species, I still sometimes forget. Oh, now I remember the question; it was about where I live. My siblings and I live in the arboretum’s Metasequoia Field and Chinese Strip, just over the Japanese Hill. So I guess you could say I’m over the hill after all.
What about your extended family?
My distant cousins, the Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequoias, have lived in California since ancient times, where they grew big and became famous. Their publicity agent says they’re the biggest living things on the planet. I used to think that was just Hollywood hype, but it’s true. And besides, they’re in northern California, not Hollywood.
You sound jealous of your cousins.
No, not at all. I like living in upstate New York where I’m well cared for, with just the right climate and other growing conditions. As one of the 30 featured trees among the 3500 at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, I get all the attention I want.
Are your siblings both brothers and sisters?
Yes, … literally. Each mature Metasequoia contains both male and female cones, like most conifers. But I’m proud to belong to a select group of trees, the deciduous conifers. So like larches and just a couple of other trees, I have needles that turn color in the fall then drop off for the winter.
How many siblings do you live with? What are their names?
I have six siblings. They’re all named Dawn Redwood, too. By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that we Dawns gave Bob Newhart the idea for the brothers Larry, Darryl and Darryl.
You’re denying a rumor. Are you sure you’re not going into politics? If you’re all called Dawn Redwood, how do you identify yourselves?
We were all born in the late 1960’s and 70’s, so we distinguish ourselves by where and how we grow. I’m the widest, but my doctor, a tree surgeon, says I’m not overweight. Another Dawn is the tallest, since it’s able to grow very straight. Our colors are a little different, too. One of us has yellowish foliage; another one has light green foliage. Another sibling is distinguished by its dark trunk. Among the seven of us, the two tallest are more than 70 feet and still growing. Since Metasequoias are fast-growing trees, two others getting there quickly. The other three are still waiting for their adolescence.
Do you have marks on a closet door that show how much you’ve grown?
Don’t be silly. We outgrew closet doors years ago. My siblings and I started being measured two years ago when the American Conifer Society requested that our heights be monitored as part of a nationwide project to learn more about Metasequoias. People still don’t even know how big we can get or how long we can expect to live because there aren’t any old trees or family records in existence. That’s because many years ago the Chinese villagers used Metasequoias for lumber. Some people think we can live 400 or 500 years. Check back with me in a couple of hundred years and I’ll let you know if I’m having a mid-life crisis.
Do you have any children?
My siblings and I have all put down roots in Slingerlands and have decided to raise families here. The four oldest of us are already producing cones and we have produced seedlings.
You mentioned the ideal climate in upstate New York. Are you concerned about climate change?
Metasequoias are one of the few species that won’t be hurt by a little warming as long as we get the right amount of moisture. We can also tolerate temperatures that are much colder than what we get here. While a warming trend won’t affect me personally, I am still deeply concerned about the effects of climate change on other trees and on the whole planet. The edge of Hurricane Sandy didn’t damage any of us at the arboretum, but with more occurrences of extreme weather as the planet warms, I’m not sure we’ll continue to be so lucky.
I share your concern. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you and feel that I’ve gotten to know you better. Thank you, Metasequoia.