1947 Contract Collection of Metasequoia (dawn redwood)
In February of 1946, Professor Wan-Chun Cheng of the National Central University in Nanjin, sent Chi-Ju Hseuh to Lichuan in China’s Hubei (then Sichuan) province to collect specimens of a newly discovered genus temporarily named Chieniodendron sinense. The collected specimens were then sent to botanical institutions in China, Ireland, and the United States for additional evaluation and study. Elmer Drew Merrill, then director of the Arnold Arboretum, received the specimens and soon contacted Hsen-Hsu Hu (then director of the Fan Memorial Institute of Biology) who had received his doctorate from Harvard and the Arboretum in 1925. Hu had collaborated with W. C. Cheng to determine and name the newly described species Metasequoia glyptostroboides.
Eager to cultivate the new species, in July of 1947 Merrill sent H. H. Hu $250 to fund the collection and shipment of seeds to the Arnold Arboretum. These and additional funds from Ralph Chaney at the University of California, Berkeley, were forwarded Cheng, who then sent his assistant, Ching-Tsan Hwa, to collect seeds from the population in Lichuan. In January and again in February of 1948, two seed shipments arrived at the Arnold Arboretum. After keeping a share of seeds for the Arboretum collections, the germplasm was promptly redistributed to other gardens, arboreta, and universities around the world. It is safe to say that until future collections of dawn redwood in the 1990s, all Metasequoia in the West can be traced to these original 1948 seed lots and their progeny.
The timing of the discovery of the species and this particular contract are incredibly important. This was to be one of the last collaborations between American and Chinese botanists before the Chinese revolution closed the doors to the Western world, only to reopen some 30 years later. Had the discovery of Metasequoia been made just a few years later, the species may in fact have been extirpated from the wild without any knowledge and scientific investigation, let alone introduction and now prominence in gardens.
Merrill, Edward D. “Metasequoia, Another ‘Living Fossil’” Arnoldia 51:4, 1991 [pdf].
Chi-ju, Hsueh “Reminiscences of Collecting the Type Specimens of Metasequoia glyptostroboides” Arnoldia 51:4, 1991 [pdf].