Majestic Dawn Redwoods in a New Memorial Grove

This spring, the renewed Metasequoia Grove at Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill will burst into bloom with 5,000 snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils as part of a memorial to Steven Murray, the late Vice President of Business Services who was known for rejuvenating business divisions at Penn--including the Arboretum.

The grove of 12 Metasequoias, or dawn redwoods, will also have seven more examples of the Chinese tree, which had been special to Mr. Murray since his boyhood when his grandfather was given one of the first of the rediscovered sequoias. On campus, additional ones will be planted after the new road called Steve Murray's Way is finished at Sansom Common.

The dawn redwood was known to botanists as a fossil, dating back millions of years to an era when dinosaurs roamed the earth, until 1946, when Chinese botanists discovered a 400- year-old living tree which had been preserved by villagers as a "divine spirit." A subsequent U.S.-sponsored expedition collected seeds, which were distributed to scientific institutions including the Morris Arboretum.

The Arboretum's Metasequoia stand, one of the first such groves in the country, was planted in the early 1950s from these original Chinese seeds. Now popular in gardens and landscapes, most of the dawn redwoods in the U.S. trace their origin to only a few trees. This lack of genetic diversity could leave future progeny susceptible to diseases, sterility and lack of vigor. The trees that were moved to the redwood grove in the Morris Arboretum trace their origin to Hubei Province, China, and are part of a Rutgers University project to study their genetic differences. The Arboretum agreed to adopt the trees into its living collection, says Arboretum Director Paul Meyer, because "When we collect seeds in the wild, we can preserve the plant's genetic origin for research and future commercial use."

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 18, January 26, 1999