This coming weekend, the dawn redwood stand at Rutgers Horticultural Farm 3 will be thinned significantly, below is some of the history behind this stand of research forest.
John E. Kuser (1925 – 2008) was a Rutgers Professor of Forestry from 1981 until 2001. In 1990, at age 65, Kuser had the idea for a large format experiment, one that would take 75 years to complete. He had been intrigued by dawn redwood (Metasequoia) trees, took the opportunity to germinate 1400 seeds that were collected from fifty-two parent trees by Chinese students and scientists. By doing this, he had the opportunity to expand the germplasm, or collection of genetics, of the species in the United States.
Dawn redwood trees are a deciduous conifer, meaning they lose their leaves in the fall, yet produce a cone much like your typical evergreen conifers (pines, spruces). They are a unique tree, that until 1941 was thought to be extinct, until it was found growing in China.
In 1992, at age 67, Kuser planted 356 of the 1400 seedlings, which represented the forty-eight seed lots that germinated. The trees were planted on Rutgers Horticultural Farm III, located off Ryder’s Lane, just a mile from the New Brunswick Campus. Kuser sent the other germinated seedlings off to other Universities and arboretums, one of these being the Dawes Arboretum in Ohio. This was where Kuser installed a second plot of 344 redwoods, to replicate the Rutgers study.
The trees on the Horticultural Farm were planted closely together in four blocks. The idea was to thin the trees at years 25 and 50, with a plan in place to be able to accomplish this thinning, without diminishing the collection. By the end of the 75-year experiment, there will be four of each offspring in the collection.
We are currently just over the 25-year mark of Kuser’s experiment. Several tree care professionals have agreed to donate their time, energy, and equipment to complete the first thinning of the dawn redwoods and honor Kuser’s memory. The thinning will be completed with Kuser’s vision in mind, to allow the densely planted collection to grow properly, without sacrificing the genetic diversity.
For more information on John E. Kuser: