Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Redwoods of Beijing

I was hiking through a valley in a remote corner of the Beijing Botanical Gardens the other morning when I had this strange feeling that I was walking through a redwood grove. Turns out I was! A short walk from the yoga retreat there is a stand of dawn redwoods that were planted here in the 1970s. The trees are a distant cousin of the redwoods found on the West Coast and were thought to be extinct until the 1940s when they were rediscovered in southwestern China. Dawn redwoods are a lot heartier than true sequoias and are thus able to make it here in the northern China climate. All of the trees I saw still looked on the relatively young and scrawny side, but no one really knows just how big they can get. I may have to check back in in another 50 years or so.

While on the topic of trees once thought to be lost only to be rediscovered in China, it turns out ginkgos--the trees now found in city parks the world over--have a similar story. It seems that for much of the last 1000 years the only place these trees could be found was inside the courtyards of Chinese and Japanese temples. The trees were "discovered" by Europeans in the 17th century in Japan and quickly spread around the world thereafter. The temple where Rachel often teaches (see photos on the right side of this blog) has a massive ginkgo that easily predates the Euro discovery.