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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Organization Seeks to Clone the World's Giant Trees

A group based in Michigan is seeking to clone the largest and strongest ancient trees in order to grow more. It's called the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive The theory is that these trees are the strongest genetically, and could be the best way to preserve their species and also spread their inherent benefits.
AP – In this September 2010 photo provided by the
Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, group member Meryl Marsh …

Yahoo News has the story, reprinted from AP (Associated Press).

Shoreline has many big trees and Shoreline's Community Backyard Wildlife Project identified many of them in a "Champion Tree Contest" over the last two years. There are many others that haven't been identified or highlighted yet. Most of these are "second growth" trees. But, there are a few old growth trees around our area still.  We even have some giant sequoias. There is a big one at the Kruckeberg Garden.

This is a hopeful trend for the future, to honor these ancient trees and spread their strong genes into places that need more more tree cover and oxygen giving life they provide.

COPEMISH, Mich. – Redwoods and sequoias towering majestically over California's northern coast. Oaks up to 1,000 years old nestled in a secluded corner of Ireland. The legendary cedars of Lebanon.
They are among the most iconic trees on Earth, remnants of once-vast populations decimated by logging, development, pollution and disease. A nonprofit organization called Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is rushing to collect their genetic material and replant clones in an audacious plan to restore the world's ancient forests and put them to work cleansing the environment and absorbing carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas largely responsible for global warming.
"In our infinite wisdom, we've destroyed 98 percent of the old growth forests that kept nature in balance for thousands of years," said David Milarch, the group's co-founder. "That's what we intend to put back."
Milarch, a tree nursery operator from the northern Michigan village of Copemish, and sons Jared and Jake have been producing genetic copies of ancient trees since the 1990s. They've now joined with Elk Rapids businesswoman Leslie Lee and a team of researchers to establish Archangel Archive, which has a staff of 17 and an indoor tree research and production complex.
Its mission: Clone the oldest and largest individuals within the world's most ecologically valuable tree species, and persuade people to buy and plant millions of copies — on factory grounds and college campuses; along riverbanks and city streets; in forests, farms, parks and back yards.
"The number of these ancient survivors that go in the ground will be the ultimate measure of our success," said Lee, who donated several million dollars to get the project off the ground and serves as board chairwoman. The group hopes donations and tree sales will raise enough money to keep it going.
Scientific opinion varies on whether trees that survive for centuries have superior genes, like champion race horses, or simply have been in the right places at the right times to avoid fires, diseases and other misfortunes. But Archangel Archive is a true believer in the super-tree idea. The group has tracked down and cloned some of the biggest and oldest of more than 60 species and is developing inventories.
The plan is eventually to produce copies of 200 varieties that are considered crucial. The trees preserve ecosystem diversity, soak up toxins from the ground and atmosphere, store carbon while emitting precious oxygen, and provide ingredients for medicines. Rebuilding forests with champion clones could "buy time for humanity" by mitigating centuries of environmental abuse, said Diana Beresford-Kroeger, an Ontario scientist who studies the roles of trees in protecting the environment.
California's coastal redwoods and giant sequoias, the world's largest trees, are best suited for sequestering carbon because of their size, rapid growth and durability, said Bill Libby, a retired University of California at Berkeley tree geneticist and consultant to Archangel Archive. The longer a tree lives, the longer its carbon remains bottled up instead of reaching the atmosphere.
"They grow like crazy," Libby said. "I have a clone of what used to be the world's tallest redwood tree in my back yard. It's still a baby, only 30 years old. It's already taller than anything around it, probably 80 to 100 feet."


  1. Why? What's wrong with gathering seeds and growing them the old fashioned, natural way?

  2. Nothing wrong with that certainly.
    I think this is a way to take the same genetic information directly from the ancient trees, and recreate them. Many of them may be isolated and other large "brothers and sister" trees may not be nearby. I think it's a way to spread these genetically strong
    examples around and further strengthen the species.

    When they say "clone" they may actually be referring to traditional techniques of horticulture.

  3. Cloning is vegetative reproduction in this case.

    Sexual reproduction of a particular specimen involves taking pollen from a male flower and combining it with the female flower of the same tree.

    It may occur with a possible error if material is accidentally mixed with that from other trees. The result would be progeny that is similar, but not identical to the intended tree.

  4. There's a pair of big sequoia sempervirens at about 700 5th Ave S, in Edmonds. Plenty others scattered about in Seattle area. This is an easy tree to grow if you want to buy one at a local nursery. Where's the need to clone them? One caveat; they need plenty of moisture and don't like really hard freezes - a few of them were planted in the median strip where I-90 and I-405 intersect and a stretch of bitter cold weather nearly killed them. They were later removed when lanes were added to the freeway.


  5. Hello Thomas,
    Yes, we do have lots of examples of Sequoia's around the area. I think the point of this is probably not to get Sequoias planted around here. I think it's more to replicate strong, ancient local tree examples which will have the best chance to live long and survive. For example, it would be worthwhile to "clone" some strong native trees, like Western Red Cedar, Doug Fir or some less common species, like Yew or White Pine and many others.

    I think the idea is to reproduce the strongest examples of a species, very much like happens naturally, but just give the process a boost.

    Thanks for commenting.


  6. Quite an interesting project... Looking at that big tree, reminded me of my visit to Muir Woods in 2006.