Common name: Yin Shang, Cathay silver fir
Cathaya argyrophylla: The dawn redwood has another tree in our garden from its own era. C.argyrophylla is a living fossil in the pine family. Cathay silver fir is the only species in its genus but does share certain similarities with pines, Douglas firs, and spruces. It was planted in 2010 in bed 74. Now this rare conifer only grows in a limited area in southern China on steep, narrow mountain slopes with limestone soils. Before its scientific discovery and protection in 1950, a larger population had been reduced by over-cutting.
Today (unlike the dawn redwood) little is known about this tree as China’s borders tightened soon after its discovery. It took many years before visits into the reserves and seed collecting were allowed. In China, Cathay silver fir grows to 20 meters and its green needles have silvery white backs. And nobody knows how tall this tree will grow outside of China. More about this.
The tree was donated by volunteer Dick McKenzie in 2010 but kept in the nursery. On a walk in August 2015, the gardener showed us the newly-planted C. argyrophylla that had become potbound (hence the yellow needles). [Five years on it still has yellow needles.] This specimen probably lost its leader, which is why it is so bushy. It grows to 30 feet in the wild, but the gardener doesn't think our plant will grow that high.
Text and 2020 photo by Hughie Jones