Gunther’s Travels: The Odyssey of Metasequoia Seeds from the 1920s?

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Abstract

The story of the establishment of the fossil genus Metasequoia Miki in 1941 by the Japanese paleobotanist S. Miki and the discovery and classification of the living Metasequoia glyptostroboides Hu et Cheng (Dawn Redwood) in 1946–1948 by Professors H. H. Hu and W.C. Cheng are well known. In addition, the efforts of Elmer D. Merrill of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and paleontologist Ralph Chaney of the University of California, Berkeley to collect and disperse M. glyptostroboides seeds throughout the world have been carefully chronicled. But what is not well-known is the story of how Wilhelm Gunther (1893–1983), a German national who lived and worked in China between 1914 and 1941, acquired seeds in the late 1920s that decades later would be identified as those of M. glyptostroboides. Drawing from historical and contemporary photographs as well as interviews with Gunther’s daughters, this essay unravels the odyssey of these M. glyptostroboides seeds that possibly predate the discovery of the native population in China.