The 2016 winners of the prestigious Cary Award are the Dawn Redwood and the Japanese White Pine.

For nearly 20 years the Worcester County Horticultural Society and Tower Hill Botanic Garden have been extolling the virtue of outstanding trees, shrubs, groundcovers and woody vines for cultivation in zone 5 gardens through the Cary Award program.

Beginning in 1997, and with the aid of the northeast’s  foremost plant experts, the society has awarded over 57 plants its highest honor. Those plants are specifically chosen for their pest and disease resistance, are  hardy to at least zone 5, are available in the nursery trade, and provide extended, or multiple seasons of interest. The award winners can be seen at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, headquarters of the society, where they are integrated among the inspiring  gardens.

Photo from Bailey Arboretum

The Dawn Redwood (Metasequioa glyptostroboides) and its cultivars and Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora Glauca Group) exemplify the goals of this award. They are among the finest plants that can be included in New England gardens – strong, tough, and uniquely beautiful.

The Dawn Redwood is an ancient plant which was long thought to be extinct – the only evidence of its existence was from fossil remains dating back  from as long as 50-100 million years.  To the world’s surprise and delight a remote population was found in the 1940s in China. In the mid-1940s the Arnold Arboretum sponsored a seed collecting expedition to China and subsequently shared seed of this ancient species with botanic gardens around the world.

While the species remains critically endangered in the wild, it is now more commonly available in the nursery trade and accessible to the gardening public. A rapid grower, this deciduous conifer has become well established in fine landscapes, and has quickly grown to 100 feet or more.

Soft, sensuous, bright green needles emerge in spring and deepen to a rich green for the summer months. In autumn, as the feathery branchlets prepare to drop, the needles turn lovely shades of rusty orange, providing yet another season of interest. In winter the muscular, fluted trunk, with peeling bark of warm tan and orange-brown, stands out against the snow and the soaring conical form, defined by slender twigs, is a welcome sight against the winter sky.

A colorful cultivar, “Ogon,” bears eye-catching yellow needles which hold their color through out the summer and create a strong, vibrant focal point.  Both the species and cultivar require room to flourish – the buttressed trunk and superficial roots are wide spreading. In moist soils “knees” which protrude up from the root system can often be seen emanating out from the circle of the drip line. A couple of neat and  trim cultivars  (“National” and “Sheridan Spire”) are more columnar than the species but remain difficult to locate. Hardy in zones 4-8 the Dawn Redwood thrives in organic, evenly moist soil but will tolerate seasonally wet conditions making it a great choice for our changing climate.

Photo via

Japanese White Pine provides a smaller alternative to the larger Dawn Redwood – growing slowly  to  30 to 50  feet tall, and  25 to 30 feet wide. The slow growth and irregular form give mature specimens great character and distinction in the landscape.

Lovely blue-green needles are present throughout the winter, and radiate out in bundles of five from slender stems. In spring, as the candles of new growth are elongating, pink pollen-bearing (male) cones create an attractive scene. Later compact deep brown seed bearing (female) cones ripen, and hang on for several years providing interest in all seasons.

Plants included in the Glauca Group bear particularly silvery-blue needles which, when combined with the exfoliating bark and persistent cones, make this a brilliant choice for winter landscapes. Hardy from zones 4-7, this conifer prefers full sun, and organic, well-drained soil.