Saint Joseph’s Square in Maynooth College has two beautiful specimens of the Dawn Redwood (METASEQUOIA glyptostroboides). These extraordinary trees are planted to perfectly compliment the towers of the President’s Arch which is the best known feature of the buildings of Saint Patrick's College, and was designed by A W Pugin. As Pugin's father was French, his design may have been inspired by the twin towers of the Pope's Chateau at Avignon.
The trees are extraordinary in that while looking like typical conifers, they are deciduous, and lose their needles in the Winter.
Dawn Redwoods in Spring and Summer
Dawn Redwoods in Autumn and Winter
The Dawn Redwood was thought to be extinct for millions of years. Fossils had been found which were classified in Japan in 1941. Within a few years, a living tree of the same species was discovered in China, and being endangered, seeds were sent to National Botanic Gardens and Universities across the world. The earliest of these were planted in 1948. While the two beautiful specimens in Saint Joseph’s Square are not as old as that, they may be among the oldest in Ireland.
For the Yi people of Southern China, this member of the Redwood family is a very special tree. By tradition, one is planted for a baby when it is born, and it is proposed that it be used to make the coffin when that person dies.