Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 5: Cranford Road Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) ‘A Living Fossil’

by Wendy Diaz, EMGV

The 2016 Durham’s Finest Tree nominations were evaluated in the fall of 2016 and the winners will be announced at the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24th, 2017 at about 6:15 at the Durham Arts Center, 120 Morris Street by Ms. Tobin L. Freid, Durham Sustainability Manager.  Of the sixteen trees nominated last year, seven met the criteria of a fine example of a tree species due to their size, historical importance or other meritorious significance.  The Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, located on Cranford Road in the Duke Forest neighborhood of Durham is a fine specimen and was nominated by its owner John Vandenberg.

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Looking up at the horizontal branches of the Cranford Road Dawn Redwood  Photo taken October 26, 2016 by Wendy Diaz 

Description

The Cranford Road Dawn Redwood has a trunk circumference of 110.5 inches and it is 106 feet in height with a canopy spread of 57 feet.  Because of its height, this backyard tree towers over the house and can be seen from the street.  In fact, the dawn redwood is almost as high as the current North Carolina Champion Tree of the same species located in the azalea gardens on the Biltmore Estate in Buncombe County at a height of 114 feet (42 feet crown spread, circumference 137 inches)2.

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Dawn Redwood located on Cranford Road in Duke Forest.  Foliage is green but change color after a frost in the fall.  Photo taken on October 26, 2016 by Wendy Diaz

 

Although a non-native species and introduced into the United States in 1948, it existed in the Pacific Northwest from about 38 million to about 5 million years ago. The Dawn Redwood is closely related to bald cypress (Taxodium) and the redwood (Sequoia)2. The conifer is deciduous and grows a distinctly conical shape with horizontal branching3 and typically grows to 100 feet tall.  Another unique feature and attractive attribute is that the tree develops a broad buttressed trunk with ‘elaborate fluting’ and braided structure with maturity3.  The bark is cedar-like or shredded and reddish-brown in color.  The foliage is ‘linear, feathery and fern-like’ as well as soft to touch.  Through the seasons the foliage changes color from light green in the spring, to deep green in the summer and a unique pinkish-tan to reddish-bronze color in the fall (after a frost). The trees are monoecious, with light brown small female cones (3/4” long) and pendant globose male cones (1/2” long).  The Dawn Redwood prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils, mild winters and full sun and is fast growing.  It tolerates deer, clay and wet soil.  It tolerates growing zones 4 to 8, however, there is a dawn redwood growing in a Montreal, Canada cemetary but the tree does not grow as tall in colder climates.

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Red-brown, shredded bark of Dawn Redwood.  Photo taken on October 26, 2016 by Wendy Diaz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reddish-bronze (orange) color of Dawn Redwood fall foliage.  Photo taken December 1, 2016 by Wendy Diaz
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Closeup of fall color of feathery/fern-like Dawn Redwood foliage.  Photo taken December 1, 2016 by Wendy Diaz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Species Background

The species Metasequoia glyptostroboides was thought only to exist in the fossil record until live plants were discovered in 1941 in their native habitat of Szechuan province in west central China by a Chinese forester T. Kan4.

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Fossil of Metasequoia glyptostostroboides (Dawn Redwood) branch of Early Middle Eocene age or about 56 million years ago.  Photo courtesy of The Virtual Fossil Museum, Rossil Site: McAbee Fossil Beds, Tranquille Shale, Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada)5

Local inhabitants called the tree shui-sa, or water fir and dug wild young trees and planted them along their rice fields, streams or in front of their doors.  Harvard educated Chinese botanist Professor Hsen Hsu Hu recognized the newly discovered tree and fossil were of the same species and published a paper announcing the discovery of a new living species.  In 1947, seeds from the trees were collected during a trip financed by Dr. E. D. Merrill, director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.  In 1948, Dr. Merrill gave the seeds to ‘76 institutions and persons interested in trees for propagation purposes” around the world.  The 1941 discovery was at a most opportune time as the trees were almost extinct because there were about 1000 trees in total left (only 100 large) in existence and natives were using the wood for construction purposes.  Journalists at the San Francisco Chronicle created the common name of Dawn Redwood before the scientific name was established several months later.  As a result of the seed distribution, large Dawn Redwood trees are widely distributed in the United States and around the world.  They can be seen at the north lawn of the Smithsonian Institution, Kew Gardens in England, Dunedin Botanical Gardens, New Zealand and at our own Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham (planted in 1949).  A detailed history of the existence of the Dawn Redwood since its propagation in the United States can be found in the 1998-99 issue of Arnoldia, the magazine of the Arnold Arboretum4.

Local Tree and Neighborhood History

The Cranford Road Dawn Redwood is thought to be about 57 years old.  Around 1960, the Dawn Redwood was planted by Dr. Jane Philpott, a professor of Botany at Duke University who owned the house prior to Mr. and Mrs. Vanderburg. ‘Dr. Philpott’s colleagues placed a bench in her memory across from the Dawn Redwood found at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens by the fish pond’ according to Mr. Vanderburg. Dr. Philpott passed away about 15 years ago.

The Duke Forest neighborhood is part of an 8000-acre tract of land acquired by the Trinity College trustees in the 1920’s so that they can expand the institution into Duke University6. It became known as Duke Forest because it was heavily wooded.  In 1929, Duke University began to develop the small Duke Forest neighborhood, in order to attract professors to its faculty from other parts of the country during the depression by having the professors purchase housing lots at prices below fair market value.  The University placed restrictive covenants on the subdivided lots such as requiring land sale only to other Duke University faculty, house set backs of a minimum of 50 feet from the street and 15 from the side property boundaries and the professor purchasing the lot had to build his/her own house.  Duke University and the original ‘faculty owners also paid for street paving, sidewalks, curb, gutters and fire hydrants.  The last period of development occurred between 1950 and 1970 and some of the homes constructed in the Duke Forest neighborhood are examples of ‘Durham’s best collection of modernist housing’.

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Distinctive conical form and fall color of the Cranford Dawn Redwood.  Photo taken December 1, 2016 by Wendy Diaz

The Cranford Road Dawn Redwood may not be a ‘native’ but its large presence among all the indigenous pines of Duke Forest add to the diverse natural majesty of this part of Durham and asserts its place as a welcomed inhabitant in this Duke Forest Neighborhood.  Please respect private property and view the Cranford Road Dawn Redwood from the street if you go and see this majestic, historically significant tree.

 

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Photo taken November 22, 2016 by Wendy Diaz

 

References:

  1. http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/big_species_results.asp
  2. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=287316&isprofile=1&basic=Dawn%20Redwood
  3. http://www.hort.uconn.edu/plants/detail.php?pid=289
  4. http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/issues/189.pdf
  5. http://www.fossilmuseum.net/plantfossils/plfossil8/Metasequoia.htm
  6. http://www.opendurham.org/category/neighborhood/Duke-Forest#desc
  7. Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)

* Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Durham naturalists and tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County now through October 1, 2017. Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical, or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well adapted to North Carolina. Winning trees nominated in 2017 will be recognized on Durham’s Arbor Day in 2018. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.

On March 6, 2016, four Durham trees (nominated in the 2015, the first year of the Durham’s Finest Tree program) located across the city and county were recognized for their size and significance during Durham’s Arbor Day ceremony at the Museum of Life and Science.7

 

 

Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 3: White Ash (Fraxinus Americana)

by Wendy Diaz

A White Ash tree in Parkwood is the 2015 Durham’s Finest Trees¹ winner in the ‘large category’ for its species.  On March 6, 2016, four Durham trees located across the city and county were recognized for their size and significance during Durham’s Arbor Day ceremony at the Museum of Life and Science.  The White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) is located near the corner of Timmons Drive and McCormick Road in the Parkwood Neighborhood of South Durham.

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It has a trunk circumference of 123 inches and it is at least 90 feet in height with an average canopy spread of 85 feet.  The white ash dominates the overstory of this small woodland and towers over understory hardwoods that surround it in this dense forest situated along a small tributary to Northeast Creek.  In fact, the height of the Parkwood Ash is close to the current North Carolina Champion Tree of the same species located in Forsyth County (height 100 feet, circumference 206 inches and 102 feet crown spread)¹.

The White Ash is the only southeast native of four ash species that is not a wetland species:  Green Ash-Fraxinus pennsylvanica; Carolina Ash- F. caroliniana; Pumpkin Ash-F. profunda².  A noteworthy characteristic of mature White Ash trees is the diamond-shaped ridging of the gray bark³.  On the west side of the Parkwood White Ash trunk is an area of the ridging that has been worn smooth; most probably from a large animal rubbing on the bark of the lower tree trunk who needed a good scratch.  An interesting bit of trivia for the Durham baseball fans out there—White Ash wood is used for the Louisville Slugger baseball bats.  Ash trees also support at least 150 pollinator species of moths and butterflies including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail².

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History

The tree is located in the undeveloped natural area of the Parkwood subdivision, which up until its development in the early 1960’s was a very remote wooded area of Durham County4.  The first home was occupied in August, 19604 and the grand opening of the nearby Parkwood Shopping Center occurred on December 11, 19625).  The award-winning Parkwood neighborhood was linked to the development of the Research Triangle Park (RTP) to provide housing for RTP employees and Parkwood HOA was one of the first homeowners associations formed in North Carolina on September 25th, 19606.

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Characteristic White Ash Bark
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This bark has been rubbed by an animal.

A Serious Threat to Ash Trees

This grand old occupant of Southern Durham County is in danger of the southerly migration of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) from northern states.  The tiny iridescent green EAB, is a native of Asia, and was first discovered in southeastern Michigan in 2002.  It has taken just over a decade to reach North Carolina in 2013 by way of Virginia3.  Typically, the EAB will kill an ash tree within 3 to 5 years after the tree is infested3. It has already killed almost every ash tree species in Ontario and Quebec, Canada and is present in most states east of the Mississippi River.2  Female EABs lay eggs in bark crevasses and when the tiny larvae hatch they chew through the outer bark and then the inner bark.  The EAB bores into the sapwood and feeds on this tissue under the bark resulting in the tree loosing its ability to transfer food and water between the roots and leaves2.  The feeding larvae disrupt the transport systems of the tree by creating winding tunnels (galleries) in the sapwood2.  This time of year in late spring, the EAB has begun to emerge from the ash wood as a mature beetle and will feed on the leaves and reproduce.  To track the pest, The City of Durham is placing sticky traps at known stands of ash7.  These traps mimic the attractive scent that the distressed ash trees emit that is irresistible to the EAB.  If the presence of EAB is confirmed then the City of Durham is eligible to receive parasitoid wasps from the N.C Forest Service, which will eat the EAB larvae and slow the spread of EAB.  In 2014, the pest was found in Durham County but has not been trapped within the city limits, yet7.

The Parkwood White Ash may well be a rarity in our county, if it survives.  It is no longer recommended that ash trees be planted as shade or street trees in our North American cities.  Unlike in the Northeast, Ash trees were rarely planted as street trees in Durham and it is estimated that only six per cent of Durham trees are ash and most are located in floodplains and along streams7.  Please protect the Parkwood White Ash and our existing ash trees by remembering to only use local firewood.  This will prevent unintentional transport of these pests to other stands and please report dying ash trees (initially the top of crown thins and partially dies) to the North Carolina Forest Service: http://www.ncforestservice.gov/forest_health/fh_eabfaq.htm.

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Photo Credits: Wendy Diaz

References:

  1. http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/big_species_results.asp
  2. Invasive Exotic Insects Threatening Our Native Forests, Emerald Ash Borer in North Carolina by Catherine Bollinger  North Carolina Botanical Garden Conservation Gardener Magazine; Spring & Summer 2016
  3. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=282936&isprofile=1&basic=White%20Ash
  4. http://www.newsobserver.com/living/livcolumnsblogs/pasttimes/article27115885.html)
  5. http://www.opendurham.org
  6. http://www.parkwoodnc.org
  7. Durham Now Monitoring for New Invasive Tree Pest, by Alex Johnson, Urban Forestry Manager, General Services Department, City of Durham. Herald-Sun Newspaper, Sunday, May 8, 2016

* Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Durham naturalists and tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County now through October 1, 2016. Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical, or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well adapted to North Carolina. Winning trees will be recognized on Arbor Day 2017. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.

 

Durham’s Finest Trees Awards

Durham County Extension Service and Durham City-County Sustainability Office recently announced winners of the first Durham’s Finest Trees contest to recognize large or historical trees in the county and city. Awards were given out on March 6th as part of the Arbor Day festivities at the Museum of Life and Science. Four awards were given in honor of four tree species large for their size; willow oak, white oak, tupelo and white ash. As an example of the size of these trees, the winning willow oak has a circumference of 18.5 ft. Tree owners are Robert Appleby, Lorisa Seibel, and Elaine McNeill. A tree on Parkwood HOA land also won as the white ash tree nominated by Michael Pollock. Tree owners are justifiably proud of their trees as they have been lovingly maintained and protected. Applications will be available this fall for next year’s contest.

Winning Willow Oak with property owner, Robert Appleby and volunteer arborist Guy Meilleur
Winning Oak with property owner, Robert Appleby and volunteer arborist Guy Meilleur

Biography of A Durham Finest Tree No. 2: Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

by Wendy Diaz

Now that the nomination period for Durham’s Finest Trees1  (DFT) competition is closed we are in the process of visiting these grand old occupants of our county and have received a number of very good candidates. One of these, a large Black Tupelo, commonly known also as Black Gum or just Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), is located in the backyard of a home along Broad Street in the Old West Durham neighborhood. Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees by now but in November this Tupelo displayed a splendor unrivaled in this neighborhood near West Club Boulevard, predominately populated by other large hardwoods such as Willow Oaks. Unfortunately, the DFT committee visited the tree in late November and after its prime fall display.

‘Photo by Wendy Diaz, November 18, 2015
‘Photo by Wendy Diaz, November 18, 2015
photo courtesy of Elaine McNeill
photo courtesy of Elaine McNeill

The Old West Durham neighborhood was developed as a result of the Erwin Cotton Mills manufacturing activity that began in 1892 and closed in 1986 (http://www.opendurham.org/category/neighborhood/old-west-durham; http://oldwestdurham.org/history/8-mills-of-erwin-mills.html). The area just to the north was undeveloped until 1908 when construction began on the new Watts Hospital (now North Carolina School of Science and Math) located about 1 block north of the tree. This site was chosen for the new larger hospital because the petri dishes placed around Durham by the architect grew the fewest bugs at this approximately 50 acre tract at the northwest edge of town and outside of the city limits. The site was a “splendid grove of oak and hickory” at the time of construction based on research by Open Durham http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/watts-hospital-1909-1980-north-carolina-school-science-and-math. The original house on the site was probably built in the 1910’s but it burnt down and the current house (under renovation) was built in the 1930’s.

The Black Tupelo tree is highly valued by the current owners who decided against a house expansion because it would harm the tree. The trunk circumference is 113 inches and it is approximately 80 feet high. The nominee told us that the tree is scarlet red in the fall and one can see it in the distance as one approaches the house. Its other striking feature is the crown spread of about 90 feet, which shades the entire back yard. In fact, the crown spread of our Black Tupelo is several feet more than that of the current North Carolina Champion Tree of the same species located in Hoke County (height 95 feet, circumference 159 inches and 57 feet crown spread).

Photo by Wendy Diaz November 18, 2015
Photo by Wendy Diaz November 18, 2015

The species is native to Eastern North America and it is dioecious. Our specimen did not have any fruit so it is probably a male. Female trees need a male pollinator tree to set their dark-blue fruit. The species have long taproots, tolerate poorly drained soils and can be used in rain gardens. The Black Tupelo typically grows from 30 to 50 feet tall but can reach 90 feet in height. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a670. Black Tupelos can live to be very old and capable of living over 600 years http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~adk/oldlisteast/#spp, however, this large specimen is roughly 85 years old dating to the construction of the current house.

Photo by Wendy Diaz November 18, 2015
Photo by Wendy Diaz November 18, 2015
  1. Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County.  The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature. Winners will be announced on Arbor Day, Spring 2016.

Biography of A Durham Finest Tree

By Wendy Diaz

Fall is a time of year when trees catch our gaze again as they change colors but if we look more closely it may be an opportunity to find the next Durham’s Finest Tree. One of our earliest Durham’s Finest Trees¹ entries is a Willow Oak (Quercus phellos) in a back yard along Watts Street in the Trinity Park neighborhood of Durham. Between 1900 and 1910, farmland was subdivided by Brodie L. Duke and developed for residential homes by “merchants, businessmen and professionals” and faculty of Trinity College. The actual house was built between 1915 and 1930 according to Open Durham (http://www.opendurham.org/category/neighborhood/trinity-park). The approximate age of the tree is 90 years dating back to this early residential development. The trunk circumference is 220 inches! It is approximately 95 feet high and its crown spread is about 82 feet. The nominee writes to us that in August 2014 a lower limb fell on a building next door and as a result its limbs were trimmed with an estimated crown reduction of 20 feet. This Willow Oak is estimated to be taller than the current North Carolina Champion Tree of the same species (height 80 feet, circumference 307 inches, and 126 feet crown spread) http://www.ncforestservice.gov/Urban/big_species_results.asp. Keep the nominations coming!

Photo courtesy of Robert H. Appleby
Photo courtesy of Robert H. Appleby
  1.  Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County.  The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Nomination forms and additional information about Durham’s Finest Trees are located HERE