In the spring of 2011, I received an exciting email from Professor Dr. Zhe-kun Zhou, a botanist and palaeobotanist at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, CAS. His paleoecology group found Metasequoia-like leafy shoots in central Yunnan: a great find! So I went to Yunnan, and became a post-doctoral fellow under his direction. After numerous excavations at the field outcrop, I opened a siltstone and a very beautiful female cone appeared. Joyfully, I immediately called Prof. Zhou with my belief that the fossil was actually Metasequoia! At last we found evidence that the intensification of Asian monsoons caused Metasequoia’s disappearance from Yunnan. Now it grows naturally only in the narrow boundary of Hubei, Chongqing, and Hunan Provinces in Central China, where the monsoon season is weaker and precipitation in spring is greater than in central Yunnan.
When I visited the Metasequoia population in Lichuan City, Hubei in late autumn 2018, I preferred going through the smaller paths in the forest, which were covered in thick “snows”—the fallen leafy shoots of the dawn redwood. I was astonished by the great quantity of leaves produced and sent drifting back to earth every year! When you look at the distant mountains, you see such beautiful scenery—standing out against the green background are coppery red Metasequoia trees growing towards the blue sky. Here is a pure land on Earth.
I am lucky for having the chance to conduct research at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and design interesting morphological and physiological experiments. Here I see my good old friends again: the earliest living Metasequoia trees to be planted outside of their native valleys in China. Along the Chinese Path in the Explorers Garden is a small Metasequoia grove. It looks so similar to the Metasequoia path in Guihua Village, Lichuan City, which gives me such strong feelings of nostalgia. Growing in the front of the Hunnewell Visitor Center, Metasequoia trees have become landmarks of the Arnold Arboretum. Every morning when I look at them, I am encouraged by their grand and elegant appearance. They welcome everyone coming to the Arnold Arboretum, and symbolize discovery and the Arboretum’s role in sharing the beauty and wonder of nature.
Li Wang, PhD, is a visiting researcher, part of a program with the Chinese Union of Botanical Gardens that brings scholars annually to the Arnold Arboretum. Li’s research at the Arboretum is supported by the Chinese Union of Botanical Gardens, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) and its Herbarium, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).