Downtown Cary is the last place you’d expect to find a miniature Redwood Forest – but tucked away behind Town Hall is a secret world of Dawn Redwoods with fluted trunks and rippling roots – striking red against a hillside curtained with green ivy.
It looks like a fairytale – and with 15 trees, it’s one of the most dense groves of Redwood trees in the state.
“I believe Cary’s grove is the second largest in North Carolina of an arboreal Endangered Species,” says George McDowell, who compiled his research on Dawn Redwood trees on the Cary Tree Archive website.
How did these Redwoods get into Downtown Cary?
Shockingly, the grove is right in the heart of downtown. Many locals have driven past the Redwood grove hundreds of times without even realizing what they were passing.
According to McDowell’s research, the Dawn Redwood trees were planted in 2000 during the expansion of Town Hall – making the trees 23 years old this year.
The trees are each over 45 feet tall – still babies compared to full grown Dawn Redwoods, which can reach over 100 feet.
Amy Mackintosh and Mark Robinson created the site plan and selected the trees while working for Mark Robinson & Associates. Robinson did the planting plan – which included the Dawn Redwoods.
“They seemed a good choice for that steep hill behind the public safety wing,” said Mackintosh, who is now a member of the NC Native Plant Society.
The Town’s effort may have helped prevent the extinction of the endangered species.
According to McDowell’s research, paleobotanists thought Dawn Redwoods had been extinct for about 2 million years until a grove of 500 was found in central China in the 1940s.
“Harvard sent an expedition there to collect seeds, and shared seedlings with responsible land users,” he wrote. “Finding a small grove of living Dawn Redwoods was like finding a living dinosaur colony.”
McDowell’s research indicates that at least two of those original Dawn Redwood seedlings are still growing in North Carolina: One in the garden of Biltmore Estate and the other in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham.
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