Until the 1940s, Metasequoia trees were found only in fossils, and believed to have been extinct for 20 million years. So when a Chinese forester, Chan Wang, found them in 1943 in Hubei province, it was like the discovery of a lost world. There was endless speculation about what other relics of the age of the dinosaurs might turn out to be hiding in remote valleys.
The metasequoia was christened the Dawn Redwood, and a few seeds were sent from China to horticulturists in Europe and America. Then, in the late 1940s, the bamboo curtain fell, and there was no further access to the mysterious land they had been found in for more than 30 years. One of the seeds grew into a tree in Edinburgh, and it has turned out to be a beauty: elegantly pyramidal, with delicate leaves and an ancient-looking, flaky-barked trunk.
Now the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens has a flourishing relationship with China, helping to record and protect the country’s extraordinary biodiversity. Who knows what other wonders are yet to be discovered there?