A History of the Craigleith Hill District

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History of the Dawn Redwood

Until 1941 the Dawn Redwood was known to scientists only from its fossilised remains and was believed to be extinct. Chinese botanists found more than 100 large specimens growing in Hupeh province and seed has been collected and distributed to various institutes interested in propagating the trees.

It was discovered that the Dawn Redwood can easily be reproduced by cuttings and it is now widely planted in Britain although does not grow so well in Scotland's climatic conditions.

The historical importance of the former Craigleith Quarry was brought to the attention of Sainsbury's in 1992, when they purchased part of the Quarry site, by the Lothian and Borders RIGS Group, and Sainsbury's incorporated into their development the following:-

  1. Planted 10 Dawn Redwood trees along the front of the store. (Relocated see plan below)
  2. Modern day carvings of carboniferous tree stems and leaves at the entrance to the store by Rienhard Behrens (artist) ( Relocated see plan below)
  3. Commissioning James Ritchie, Sculptor to produce the stone alphabet located on the curved wall at the entrance to the retail park from Craigleith Road.
  4. Geological Trail at the back of the store.
  5. Leaflet on Craigleith Quarry. (out of print)

The story is told that Sainsbury's acquired 10 Dawn Redwoods(Metasequoia glyptrotroboides) in "root ball form" from Germany and planted them along the front of the store, commemorating the finding of several fossil trees Pitys withamii) 290 million years old in the quarried stone between 1835 and 1865.

The ten Dawn Redwood trees were well protected by iron rails and surrounded at the base with iron gratings to allow the trees to obtain water, considering their location, and compared to the Dawn Redwoods in the Botanic fossil garden they are doing well.

Close up of the leaf of the Dawn Redwood

An extension to Sainsbury's store, completed in October 2010 required the 10 Dawn Redwood trees, shown along the front of the store, prior to the extension, to be removed but they have been replaced with 6 young trees of a similar species in the ground at the South end of the store and 4 at the North end of Sainsbury's car park.

This picture was taken through the fire exit door, at the soft drink section, inside Sainsbury's showing six of the new trees at the South end of the store. Their probable age is around 15.

The architectural plan above shows the new location of the Dawn Redwood Trees (marked with large blacks spots) and the Fossil wall (1). It also shows the location of the Alphabet Wall (2). Part of the original quarry material is located at (3). The RIGS site is marked (5) which is situated round the back of the store accessed from location (4) at the North end of the building.

I was fortunate enough to obtain parts of one of the tree trunks and cut some cross sections to examine the tree rings. If you click on the thumbnails you will be able to determine that there are 30 rings, indicating that it was 30 years old. The first ring, next to the bark, would be 2009 and then count inwards to 1993 when the trees were planted. It does show that the tree in its earlier days, showing wide growth rings, enjoyed a much better environment than its latter days. Sainsbury's purchased the 14 yr old trees in root ball form from Germany and were planted in time for the stores summer opening in 1993.

Above is a definition of the different colourings.

The garden seat and bench pictured below were made from the Dawn Redwood trees removed from along the front of Sainsbury's store prior to the extension.

The Dawn Redwood bench, seen above, is now located just outside the entrance way to the store.

Those interested in Dawn Redwood trees might like to have a look at the web site of the National Register of Dawn Redwood trees and see the reference to Sainsbury's Dawn Redwood Trees under TALL STORIES - July 2011
Link to Redwood World website