The "living fossil" Metasequoia glyptostroboides Hu et Cheng, commonly known as dawn redwood or Chinese redwood, is the only living species in the genus and is valued for its essential oil and crude extracts that have great potential for anti-fungal activity. Despite its paleontological significance and economical value as a rare relict species, genomic resources of Metasequoia are very limited. In order to gain insight into the molecular mechanisms behind the formation of reproductive buds and the transition from vegetative phase to reproductive phase in Metasequoia, we performed sequencing of expressed sequence tags from Metasequoia vegetative buds and female buds. By using the 454 pyrosequencing technology, a total of 1,571,764 high-quality reads were generated, among which 733,128 were from vegetative buds and 775,636 were from female buds. These EST reads were clustered and assembled into 114,124 putative unique transcripts (PUTs) with an average length of 536 bp. The 97,565 PUTs that were at least 100 bp in length were functionally annotated by a similarity search against public databases and assigned with Gene Ontology (GO) terms. A total of 59 known floral gene families and 190 isotigs involved in hormone regulation were captured in the dataset. Furthermore, a set of PUTs differentially expressed in vegetative and reproductive buds, as well as SSR motifs and high confidence SNPs, were identified. This is the first large-scale expressed sequence tags ever generated in Metasequoia and the first evidence for floral genes in this critically endangered deciduous conifer species.