JoAnne Skelly: Getting to know the three redwoods

My friend, Will, asked me if I knew that the dawn redwood grew in Reno. I thought there was one at the university, but he had seen one at someone’s home. Since I couldn’t remember the scientific name, I looked it up: Metasequoia glyptostroboides. As I was looking that up, I wanted to be sure I remembered what giant sequoia was: Sequoiadendron giganteum. Then to round off what I consider the three redwoods, I confirmed the name for coast redwood, or California redwood: Sequoia sempervirens.

People often call all three of these Cypress family members “redwoods.” If you want to buy the right plant, use its scientific name. Buying a dawn redwood can be an iffy, expensive proposition for our area. While you might want one because it is one of the few deciduous conifers (loses its needles every year), be aware it doesn’t usually do well in arid environments with high summer temperatures. In coastal environments, with significant year-round precipitation and humidity, it can tolerate temperatures to 90 degrees. It does tolerate temperatures down to negative 12 degrees with occasional lows to negative 20 degrees. The one Will had seen in Reno was on a wet site protected by the shade of other trees.

The coast redwood is another unlikely tree for our climate. Its native habitat is the cool maritime, superhumid region along the north coast of California into the southwest corner of Oregon. These areas receive 25 to 122 inches of rain per year, primarily in the winter, but they also have summer fog. The average winter low temperature is a mild 28 degrees with occasional lows to zero degrees. In the wild, with optimal conditions, these “Big Trees,” as they are known, reach heights over 350 feet. In less-than-ideal circumstances, one might grow to 50 feet.

While the first two trees are highly questionable for Nevada with our desiccating winds, winter lows sometimes down to negative 20 degrees, and annual average precipitation of only seven or so inches, the giant sequoia actually does quite well here. This close relative of the coast redwood tolerates low temperatures below negative 30 degrees, drying winds and summer heat. This Sierra Nevada native is the good “redwood” selection for our area, if you can give it room to grow (60 feet to 100 feet tall by 30 feet to 50 feet wide), well-drained soil and moderate moisture throughout the year. But to get the right tree, ask for it by name, Sequoiadendron giganteum.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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