Dawn redwood was thought to be extinct and was only known through fossils until the middle of the 20th century. It was rediscovered in 1949 in China. The tree's seeds were shipped to the Arnold Arboretum and put into cultivation. Today the tree is primarily an ornamental evergreen. It has an attractive pyramid shape and graceful foliage that set off the landscape. The wood is considered a softwood, can be porous and shreds easily.
Dawn redwood is not a highly sought after lumber tree but it is good for pulp. Pulp is processed into plyboard and composite materials and even paper. The process is extensive and more profitable with the traditional southern pines that make up most of the pulp industry. Dawn redwood is grown across much of the United States but not in plantations for harvest. No great stands exist that would be attractive mill sites.
The wood may not be strong but it sands and polishes beautifully. It has been made into chests, shelves and other utility furniture. The color and grain come out when it is burnished and it retains beauty for years. Dawn redwood is closely related to coastal redwood and its uses are identical. Coastal redwood was an important lumber tree until 97 percent of the trees were used up by the end of the 19th century. Dawn redwood enjoys a protected status both in the U.S. and in China, and it is unlikely that lumber harvesting will ever be allowed to threaten the population.
Due to the fragile nature of dawn redwood lumber, it requires bonding and treatment to prevent rotting and to strengthen the wood. It has the potential to reach a niche market of builders and homeowners seeking exotic wood for unusual building projects such as interior flooring, cabinetry, paneling and other areas in the home where wood with a rich look and interesting past has economic value.
Uses in China
Dawn redwood is a native of China and it is used as building timber there. Local people build bridges and other structures with the wood. The foliage is used for cattle fodder, and traditional usage had reduced the number of trees to 1,000 in the mid-1900s. Fortunately the tree is not currently being widely exploited for its lumber. There are numerous other fast-growing trees that do not have the near-extinction history of dawn redwood. Good conservation rather than economic abuse are likely in the future of this tree.