The story of this living fossil from its discovery in 1941 to the point where sizable specimens all over the world now guarantee its survival is worth hearing. The tree was well known from Arctic fossils and at first considered to be redwood; if you look at the tree you will agree that the leaves resemble those of the coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, and the cones are rather similar also. However, if you examine the leaves carefully you will conclude that the arrangement is decussate (arranged in pairs each at right angles to the next pair above or below) with an extra quirk whereby a twist between each pair brings the spray of leaves into one plane. The redwood leaf is quite unlike that. Well, a Mr. Wang collected leaves and cones from living specimens in Central China in 1944 – apparently as many as 1000 had survived in the mountains between Sichuan and Hubei – and within two or three years a move was afoot in China to distribute the tree.
The specimen in the grounds of the Lou Henry Hoover House off Cabrillo Avenue, which was planted by President and Mrs. J. E. Wallace Sterling on November 6, 1953, when 4 feet high, was raised by Prof. Ralph W. Chaney from seed collected from China, and has now borne seed itself. A very fine specimen at the Palo Alto Post Office on Waverley Street near Hamilton Avenue, planted March 7, 1949, was one of the earliest to be brought from China. Younger trees are at Escondido Elementary School; one behind 856 Esplanada Way; three near the northeast corner of the Bookstore (already fruiting), and three nearby toward the Center for Educational Research at Stanford (CERAS); and two big ones in the park opposite 828 Lathrop Drive. Fifteen young trees were planted in White Plaza in summer 2008.
In the fall, these trees turn bronze and drop their leaves. Dawn redwood leaped from the stage of botanical exploration to worldwide cultivation in record time. The Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis, Araucariaceae) discovered in 1994 within 50 miles of Sydney, thought to have been extinct since the Carboniferous Era, is repeating the performance.
About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings added the note on the White Plaza planting ca. 2008. All locations verified Apr 2020 (SP).