Jurassic Forest of West Seattle

What if you could time-travel to the Age of Dinosaurs, perhaps to wander through a misty forest and gather a few seeds? Could you plant your own little Jurassic Forest back here at home?

It’s a bit like what the Parks department is doing now in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park. A small forest glade will become a sort of “living fossil” tree grove.

It’s going to be lovely. And, it has a cool story to go with it.

About 100 million years ago, a certain conifer tree grew throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Paleobotanists studying its fossils named it Metasequoia glyptostroboides, or the Dawn Redwood. Since there was no evidence of the tree having existed on earth for millions of years, it was thought to be extinct…as long-dead as the dinosaurs that may have nibbled its needles.

But, in 1943, when most of the world was embroiled in World War II, a Chinese scientist  working in the Szechuan region of China happened to notice a strange-looking tree in a tiny, remote village. Being a forester, he knew it was not a Chinese native. In fact, it looked like something from the fossil record.

Turns out, it was. Soon, the world was a-buzz with the news: a Living Fossil had been discovered! A single specimen of a long-extinct species! Metasequoia lives!

It seemed as improbable as a finding an Allosaurus in the backyard.

(Watercolor of Allosaurus by Denise Dahn, detail of a larger illustration)

A few years later, an expedition found a small, isolated population of Dawn Redwoods in the lowland canyons of Szechuan. But there were so few that without protection, the Dawn Redwood could soon be extinct. And this time, it really would be forever.

Approximate location of the discovery of the Metasequoia, in China.

So, seeds were collected, trees were planted, laws were decreed. Within a few decades the species was thriving in temperate forests around the globe. In China, the mature trees are protected, but the forest habitat is not, so the tree remains threatened in its native location. But the species lives on in “living fossil tree groves” in Europe and North America.

One of these groves will be in West Seattle. And, who knows, maybe the Dawn Redwood really is a Northwest Native, too. A native from 100 million years ago, that is.

It’s possible.

Dawn Redwood, photo by Ryan Somma
Dawn Redwood, photo by Ryan Somma


More cool stuff about the Dawn Redwood:

It’s a deciduous conifer, meaning it drops its needles in fall, after turning a lovely gold or reddish color.

It’s a relative of the California redwood and the bald cypress.

Read more:

Save The Redwoods – Dawn Redwood Facts

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Oregon State.edu

Cambridge University – Botanic Garden

Travel the world in an afternoon

At the Pacific Connection Gardens at the Washington Park Arboretum you’ll find forests from five regions around the world that have similar forests to our own Cascadia region, including China, New Zealand, Australia, and Chile.

2 thoughts on “Jurassic Forest of West Seattle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s