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The Mesozoic Treasure Tree of Lanier Library

The roots of the Dawn Redwood, a Metasequoia tree rising over the Lanier Library parking lot, are in the Mesozoic Era that ended approximately 66 million years ago. Until 1944 it was known only in fossil records and was believed extinct.

There are variations on the story of discovery of living specimens. One tells of four American soldiers

wandering into a remote valley in Modaoxi, China. As good fortune had it, all were also botanist. Another credits famous Chinese botanist Zhan Wang with making the first scientific collection. Botanical records from WWII are difficult to piece together but what is known for sure is that a small stand of pyramidal trees up to 165 feet, with soft leaves reminiscent of hemlock, were found beyond belief. These were direct descendants of deciduous conifers that had rustled to the passings of dinosaurs and shaded the earliest mammals.

How then did a specimen take root outside the LeDuc Room that today coincidentally preserves the

Felburn Nature and Wildlife Collection?

In 1948, Wan Chung Chen and Hu Hsen Hsu confirmed the discovery. Shortly thereafter, Harvard

University sponsored an expedition to collect seeds to plant in Boston’s Arnold Arboretum for

preservation. From those seeds grew the generations that eventually could be found in 1973 at Oman’s

Nursery just outside Columbus, NC. After millions of years in hiding, it took only about 25 years from

paleontological surprise to ornamental plantings in Polk County

Rita Landrum, Board Treasurer, says, “If I remember correctly, the tree was a memorial gift. There

used to be a plaque at the base commemorating that Anne Reuling donated it in memory of her

mother Lasalle.”

In the late1980s, Charlotte conservationists founded the Treasure Tree Program to increase awareness

of irreplaceable trees in NC communities based on age, size, and rarity. In 2008, the Pacolet Area

Conservancy added the Lanier Dawn Redwood to the list of treasures.

 

Submitted by Vincent Verrecchio