Tales from Town

Dawn redwood related to ‘living fossil’ discovered in China

Special to The CambrianMarch 6, 2014 

"The best day to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best day is today.” —Anonymous

Thanks to my editor, Bert Etling, for the above quotation. The beautiful Cambria forest of Monterey Pines has been enhanced over a hundred years by some pretty unique plantings which we all enjoy, if we become aware of them.

I will not engage in the controversy over the nonnative eucalyptus and cypress trees which have been successfully planted as wind breaks on home sites and other areas. Instead, I have been locating the trees which were identified about 1979 by the Coastal Conservancy and again in 1986 by a committee of Cambrians led by Millie Heath, as historically significant, and marked with approximate dates of establishment.

One priceless specimen has lost its redwood marker, and is on property which is for sale. It would be tragic if its value goes unrecognized, and we lose the deciduous dawn redwood, which was saved at least once from destruction, according to botanist/author Sharon Lovejoy and rancher/historian Dawn Dunlap.

I quote here from the tract prepared by Millie Heath from her research: “This tree is probably the most unique. Until 1944 it was thought to be extinct, represented only in fossil leaf and cone prints from Japan and Manchuria. In the town of Mo-tao-chi in the province of Szechvan in central China a government forester came upon the ‘discovery tree.’ Never before had there been such a dramatic discovery than the finding of this living fossil whose history can be traced back for 100 million years or more.

“Successive field parties were sent into the Jupeh province and found dawn redwoods more numerous in a region known as Shuihas- pa. Unlike the winter rainfall in California’s redwood belt, China’s rainfall occurs primarily through the summer season, which accounts for the tree’s deciduous habit. The dawn redwood has a buttressshaped trunk with reddish brown bark.

“Doctor Ralph W. Chaney was the famous paleobotanist at U.C. Berkeley who discovered this unknown, and supposedly extinct, tree in the mountains of war-torn China. He experienced some difficulty removing several specimens of the dawn redwood for export to America. However, he did finally succeed in bringing eight of the seedlings back to California, where they were carefully nurtured, and the four surviving seedlings planted in various selected locations…

Three of the original seedlings were planted at U.C. Berkeley.

“Such was the case with the local dawn redwood. It was given to the late Mrs. Florence Thatcher, a relative of Dr. Chaney, because the local (Cambria) climate and soil conditions near her home on Wall Street seemed to be ideal … It is on County land and should be taken care of by the town for all future generations to enjoy. ‘To see the needles appear in the spring, like feathers, and to see the lovely henna color in the fall is magical,’ says Millie.”

It would seem that one of the tasks of the Cambria Historical Society should be to replace the marker, and cherish and nurture this priceless monument, perhaps again saving it from destruction. Certainly we must call attention to its location on a very unprepossessing location on Wall Street, which would appear to be just an alley north of Cambria’s Main Street. We must gratefully credit people such as Dr. Chaney andMillie Heath, and all the others who have preserved the dawn redwood for us and future generations.

Tales from Town is special to The Cambrian. The Cambria Historical Museum at Burton Drive and Center Streets is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays. The Heirloom Gardens are open for public enjoyment every day. For more, call 927-2891 or go to http://www.cambriahistoricalsociety.com. Consuelo Macedo is community relations chairwoman of the Cambria Historical Society.

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