Posts Tagged ‘Metasequoia’

Beneath the Leaves

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana “Contorta)

I usually like to showcase lush green gardens or individual plants in this blog, with some miscellaneous posts here and there.  But it’s Winter and there isn’t much lushness around now.  So I thought I’d do something different.  It’s always fascinated me to look at the trees in the fall and winter when they’re bare of leaves.  You can finally see the structure of them.  They look so different without their clothes on and you can really see how the buds look and the ways they grow.  I’ll show you a few of the deciduous trees in our garden so you can see this structure and appreciate the trees from a whole new perspective.  They’re still beautiful to look at now, and you can see how I’ve pruned them to attain their current shapes.  It’s something that’s so much harder to see when they’re in full leaf.  Hope you enjoy the tour…

Jade Butterflies Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba “Jade Butterflies”)

Vanessa Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica “Vanessa”)

Red Pygmy Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum “Red Pygmy”)

Diana Japanese Larch (Larix kaempferi “Diana”)

Eddie’s White Wonder Dogwood (Cornus florida x nuttallii)

Coral Bark Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum “Sango-Kaku”)

Korean Butterfly Maple (Acer tschnoskii ssp. “Koreanum”)

Waterfall Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum dissectum “Waterfall”)

Dwarf Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum “Peve Minaret”)

Bloodgood Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum “Bloodgood”)

Miss Grace Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides “Miss Grace”)

Weeping Purple Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica “Purpurea Pendula”)

Red Fox Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum “Rot Fuchs”)

I hope this little story has given you a different idea of a new way to look at trees when they don’t have their leaves on them.  It’s a true art to learn to identify them by their buds and growth habits, without the leaves to guide us.  It takes practice, and I’ve personally found that the aspect is an easier way to identify them then the buds are, but that’s just because I haven’t learned the buds as well.  It’s a lot harder to do, but totally worthwhile to try to learn them.   There’s so much more going on beneath the leaves…

Seeing thru them,


Deciduous Conifers


Of the few deciduous conifers that exist on this planet the Larch, or Larix, is probably the best known.  There are some 11 species of it that grow from the Western US across the to the Atlantic seaboard and others that grow across Europe to Siberia and into the Himalayas and beyond to China and Japan.  The one I’m showing you here is a form of the Japanese Larch, Larix kaempferi, called “Diana”.  It’s a uniquely contorted form that bends and twists as it grows fast to a small tree of maybe 30 feet tall, in not much time, given that it’s grown 3 – 3 1/2 feet for the last two years I’ve had it and it’s still growing this year.  It turns an amazing golden yellow in fall and can be seen from the house it’s so bright and clear in its color.

We won’t get much shade from this tree but its form and texture makes up for that quite well.   This tree is in the Pinaceae, or Pine family, along with another of these deciduous conifers called the Pseudolarix, or Golden larch.  It’s not a true larch but sure does look like one. Another great tree for fall color too.  It goes bare in the fall too.  So don’t be shocked when that lovely conifer you have in the front yard loses its leaves in the autumn.  They’ll come back in the spring all feathery and bright green and new.


This tree in the Cypress family, or Cupressaceae, is well know in the south eastern parts of the US.  It’s a variety of the  Swamp Cypress that inhabits the swamps and wetlands of that area. This is the Taxodium distichum variety called a “Peve Minaret” for the developer of it in Holland.   This is a dwarf form of the tree that will only grow to 10-20 feet tall, depending on which web site you read.  I’ve only seen them get to 10 feet or so myself so we’ll see how it goes. The species tree grows to 100 -150 feet and is a valuable timber tree for commerce in its native habitat.  The wood is known for its ability to withstand rot, as is true with many plants in the Cypress family.  Not surprising, as it grows in water.  It also develops “knees”, or roots that come up above the water line.  Very cool…

This tree turns a lovely shade of orangish brown before it drops its needles in late fall.  It’s late to leaf out in the spring too but the foliage is such a treat it’s well worth the wait.  It’s one of my “pettable” trees because it’s so soft to the touch and easy to be around.  Not prickly like so many conifers are.  This tree is only 5 years old from a 5 ft tree, and it’s now over 10 feet tall and 7 feet across so it’s going to get much bigger in time.  Maybe  it’ll get to that 20 ft. mark.  I’d like that, but since it only puts on about a foot each year, as is typical for many mid sized dwarf trees, it’ll take another 1o years or more to get there.  I can wait…


This one is perhaps my favorite tree in the garden.  Maybe.  I have so many I love.  This is a variety of the famous Dawn Redwood, or Metasequoia glyptostroboides.  This variety is called “Miss Grace” and it’s a weeper that I had to train up to get it to its current height of 9 feet.  Though it’s the smallest of the redwoods, the species will grow to over 200 feet tall in central China where it was just “discovered” in the early 1940’s.  It was found in the fossil record just before then and was a surprise to be found living still in its native habitat.  Its’s endangered there but its seeds have been sent to arboreta and nurseries all over the world.  I planted my first one for my folks back in the early 70’s and I sure would like to see it now.  It must be close to 80 feet by now I’d guess.  Wow!  I wish my folks had been able to keep that home…. ah well.  But I digress…

The story of this particular cultivar, “Miss Grace”, is that the nurseryman that found it thought it was going to be a weeper and trail along the ground.  But overnight the nursery workers tied it up to be a tree, so that’s what happened.  I worked hard to get mine this tall but it wouldn’t stay put when I tried it to get it to 10 feet and it fell over about 2 months after I took off the training stakes.  So now it weeps down all over itself.  It’s another one of my “pettables” because it’s so incredibly soft to the touch.  It turns a lovely shade of orangish brown, like the Taxodium, in the fall before it loses its needles.  It grows a little slower than the other ones, at several inches a year, so it’ll be a treat to see how big it will get in time.  I’m excited to see how it does.


Some folks will say I’m cheating with this one.  Many people call this a conifer but it’s not really one.  It’s clearly related it’s true, but it’s not truly a cone bearing tree like the confers.  It’s a Gymnosperm tho like confers but is closer to the cycads (like Sago Palms…) than the conifers.  But I’m including it anyway because so many people call it one, including the  American Conifer Society.  So I’m fine with putting it in this list.  This is a Ginkgo biloba variety called “Jade Butterflies”.  It’s a relatively small dwarf tree that will grow to the usual 10-20 feet tall, but so far it’s only gotten to about 8 feet in my garden.  It’s grown about a foot a year tho so it won’t take it long to get to full size.  The leaves look like small butterflies which is why it’s named for them.  I can see it, but it’s a  fanciful name, as so many botanical names are.  That’s OK, it suits it.

This is a unique tree, being the only member of its family -the Ginkgoaceae – and has been around for over 270 million years in its current form.  It’s called a living fossil and it truly is.  Here in Washington State we have a State Park called the Ginkgo Petrified Forest and we visited it last year on a trip across the country.  It was amazing to see the little leaves in the rocks and to imagine this tree being around way before the dinosaurs and humans by ages.  It’s truly a piece of living history.  There are some giant trees of this type growing all over the world now so it’s a treat to have a small one here in our small garden.

Well, that’s a tour of  some deciduous conifers.  The only one I didn’t mention was the Chinese Swamp Cypress (Glypstrobus – like the Metasequoia glyptostroboides which was named for it.)  I feel privileged to have at least 3 ( maybe 4) of the 5 (maybe  6) deciduous conifers on the planet.  I try to have a great variety of plants in this garden and now have over 200 different varieties or cultivars.   It’s a lot of why we call this a Sanctuary, and sometimes a mini Botanical Garden.  I purposefully sought out these deciduous conifers for their unique status and their wonderful habits of growth.  I like it that they lose their leaves and die back each year.  It’s nice to provide a different option for the garden instead of a dark heavy conifer.  These are all much lighter feeling and the loss of leaves makes them look delicate and fine.  Just my opinion, but I find them fascinating.  I hope you do too.

No, they aren’t dead! 🙂



Metasequoia in Training


This is a cultivar of the Dawn Redwood, or Metasequoia glyptostroboides, called “Miss Grace”.  As I understand the story, it was developed by Talon Bucholz in his nursery and he thought it was going to be a ground cover. One night his employees tied them all up into trees and that’s what they’ve become in the nursery trade now. A weeping Metasequoia instead of a ground cover.

I planted this tree in the winter of 2008 when it was only about 4 feet tall. It’s now over 8 feet and still growing, but I’ve had to work at it to get it that tall. If you click twice on this photo and look closely you can see the green ties at the top of the tree where I’ve trained the tips up to be straight up in the air. No weeping here, tho it was a lateral I tied up and it wanted to be level to the ground. I had different plans.

I’ve been training this tree up by tying up the laterals since I’ve had it and I’ve gained several feet of growth in that time because of it. I just tie up the tips Very carefully and let them grow. They seem to want to continue to weep tho, so I’ve had to go clear to the top of the tree to get it to stay as straight as it can and let it grow upright instead of weeping.

I’m not sure what would happen if I let it alone. I suspect it might build up on itself, in time anyway, but it’d be a much slower process and I’d have a very different tree. I like that it’s getting up to its supposed 10 foot height so fast. I suspect it may get even taller, but then I may have to train it up to do that and I don’t know how long I want to do this.

These trees are Very fast growing as you can see with this one. I dunno how well you can see the trunk on this but the base of it is a full two hands around and that amazes me. Up close this tree looks like something from some prehistoric time, which in fact it is. I love its aged look. It’s very evocative of old growth forests and almost hoary in its shape and character.

The Metasequoia was only discovered by modern man in the early 40’s in China in a wet valley where it rains all summer. But they seem to do fine here in Seattle where they don’t get much summer water from the sky. I’ve also grown them in central CA where they also thrive even in the abysmal heat and dryness there. I planted a species for my folks there and it’s huge now. They do like a lot of water.

They’re in the family of the Cupressaceae, the Cypress family, but it contains far more than cypress. It also holds the redwoods of California, and many other wonderful conifers. It’s a huge family and I have many of its representatives in my garden.

One of the things I love the most about this tree is how “pettable” it is when the leaves are on it. They’re very fine and lacy and look like a sheer version of the coast redwood, and feel like soft feathers when you brush them with your fingers. It’s really delightful.

Then in winter they start to develop their spring buds as soon as the leaves fall, so it always looks like it’s about to burst forth in new growth. It makes me happy to see it like this and I love the unique structure it has that you can see in the winter when it’s bare and lost its covering of leaves. You can see that structure well now.

Growing dwarf plants is a joy and a challenge if you want to keep them in their spots and yet allow them to get to the sizes they want to become. They usually grow so slowly that it takes them years to do this. But with a fast grower like this, and a few others, I have to take a hand in training them. I wrote about my Red Twig Dogwood recently and how I’ve trained it into a tree. I’ve done the same with other trees and plants.

This Metasequpia is one of my favorites in the garden and it has been for many years as a large tree. It’s so cool to be able to still have its beauty as a dwarf that will grow to a reasonable size for me. This is really my secret. Growing things that will fit where I put them and growing them with minimal training and adjustment with pruning is my goal, but it takes careful work to do it well.

I love that work. Helping the plants to grow to be themselves as much as possible is one of my chief joys in growing the garden. It’s such a pleasure to see things become themselves, just as it is with my fellow humans. We all become ourselves with the proper training and it’s as true with trees as with people. Good training when you’re young makes you a good person or a good plant.

It’s worth the time and energy it takes and I recommend it to you who have plants that need some assistance in their growing habits. You can change them some but you always have to do it in context with what a plant wants to be on its own or it won’t work. So follow the lead of the plant world and you’ll do well.

Happy Training to you,