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.

McDowell’s full research on the history of the Dawn Redwood can be found here.

Other, even bigger Redwood trees around the Triangle

There are two other types of Redwood that can be found in America: Coast Redwoods and Great Sequoia, which can reach 300 feet tall, with trunks wide enough for an entire car to drive through.

Compare that to native trees, such as a Live Oak that only grows 40 to 80 feet or a White Oak reaching around 100 feet. When you see a Coast Redwood growing alongside native Carolina trees, they completely tower over them.

Some of these larger Redwood trees can be found in Raleigh and Wilson, but they are singular trees, not a full grove like in Downtown Cary.

Many are in people’s yards – but some are in arboretums and parks. There are some huge Redwood trees in downtown Raleigh and Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.

Two large Redwood trees can be seen on Montgomery Street in Raleigh. They were already in the yard when the owner purchased the home in the 1980s. He believes they were planted in the 1940s based on their size.

The Wilson Redwoods are perhaps some of the most well-known Redwoods in the state. One enormous Redwood stands at the corner of Raleigh Road Parkway and Sunset Crescent. The trunks are almost as wide as a car, and they tower over the houses and other trees. A local man named Woody Harrison said his grandfather brought those Redwoods from a nursery in Norfolk, VA in the 1940s, and neighbors began planting them. At least 10 Redwood trees can be found in yards throughout Wilson.

Around 20 years ago, one local man brought some trees from Oregon and gave them out to people around the Triangle.

For those of you wanting to go see it for yourselves: The Redwood grove in Downtown Cary can be found on Wilkerson Avenue between Town Hall and Herb Young Community Center.

Podcast: Where can you find this ‘Redwood Forest’?

Want to visit some of these Redwood trees or the Redwood grove in Downtown Cary? WRAL’s Hidden Historian Heather Leah has driven to visit all of these enormous and historic trees. Listen as she describes their history and locations with WRAL’s Amanda Lamb in our latest podcast.

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