Dawn Redwood is an ancient tree that only existed in fossil records dating back 50,000,000 years ago to the Mesozoic era. It was thought to be extinct until the species was discovered by Chinese forester, Gan Duo, and Chinese botanist, Wang Zhan when a small population was found in a remote valley of the Szechwan province in 1941. Villagers who lived near the trees called them “shui-shan” meaning “water fir” and had long revered them as gods. Shrines were built beneath them where offerings commonly were left. One of these trees was later sampled to produce the entire seed source for trees grown outside of China. It was later introduced to the United States in 1947. That same year, a more detailed exploration revealed that the species had a range over an area of about 800 km2. The center of the population, which supported about 6,000 trees, was in the nearby Shuishaba valley. In that valley, an isolated specimen was discovered and is currently the tallest Dawn Redwood ever recorded. It was approximately 165 feet tall. It was unfortunately killed by a lightning strike in 1951.
The tallest Dawn Redwood still standing today is 123 feet tall, living at Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania. It is estimated that it was planted around 1950.
Dawn Redwood is the sole living species of the Metasequoia genus.