'Gold Rush'
'Gold rush' Photo by Joan Dudney, Bizon Nursery; 'North Light' by Sam Pratt, Conifer Kingdom, Silverton, Or.

One of the best plant purchases I’ve ever made, considering the long-term enjoyment I’ve received, was a dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Gold Rush’ I bought from Larry Stanley, owner of Stanley and Son’s Nursery in Boring, Ore. First of all, who doesn’t like saying Metasequoia glyptostroboides. The name lingers on your tongue, like a fine chocolate caramel. The ornamental beauty of this plant far outweighs the linguistic merits. The fact that it is a deciduous conifer should not deter anyone from growing M. glyptostroboides and its cultivars.

The entire genus Metasequoia was not reported until 1941, and then it was thought to be extinct, appearing only in fossil form. However, a few years later, small populations were found living in Sichuan and Hubei provinces in central China. In 1948, seeds were collected by an expedition from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, which distributed them for growth trials to universities worldwide. Today, dawn redwoods are frequently encountered in the United States and in the UK. The Bailey Arboretum in New York has a small grove of the trees, and one is considered the world record specimen in terms of butt diameter. Dawn redwoods have been planted as street trees in Manhattan and Brooklyn by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

I spoke with Kevin Borts of Bizon Nursery near Portland, Ore., who says, “Selection and breeding of dawn redwood has led to new cultivars which offer gardeners better varieties for modern landscapes. ‘Gold Rush’ or ‘Ogon’ is a truly unique upright tree with brilliant golden-yellow foliage that turns a rust-orange color in fall. Dawn redwood will tolerate heavy soils and wetlands. They are best grown in a container sized to accommodate their aggressive water seeking roots. Pruning is needed during production to establish a pleasing shape.

Lucile Whitman of Whitman Farms in Salem, Ore., adds, “My experience with Mets has generally been positive as the trees are rewardingly vigorous, graceful, even growers. ‘Miss Grace’ is a modest grower but is well named — graceful. ‘Matthaei Broom’ is at the other end of the spectrum: obese is the word that comes to mind. ‘White Spot’ is no skinny-Minnie either, but I bonsaied one and it was charm itself. The witches broom from it, ‘North Light’ is an award winner. Probably my favorite is ‘Waasland’ — upright and balanced, everything a Metasequoia promises.”

Why grow dawn redwood and its cultivars?

  • It has the allure of being a “prehistoric” tree, brought back from the brink of extinction.
  • A deciduous conifer is a great conversation piece in the garden.
  • The many cultivars offer a wide variety of shapes, sizes and foliage colors.
  • They grow in a wide range of soils and will tolerate boggy conditions
  • They are relatively fast growing.
  • Mature specimens are stunning additions to large landscapes.

Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. mark@littleprinceoforegon.com