The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

April 22, 2013

Group kicks off planting of ancient tree clones

COPEMISH, Mich. — A team led by a nurseryman from northern Michigan and his sons has raced against time for two decades, snipping branches from some of the world's biggest and most durable trees with plans to produce clones that could restore ancient forests and help fight climate change.

Now comes the most ambitious phase of the quest: getting the new trees into the ground.

Ceremonial plantings of two dozen clones from California's mighty coastal redwoods will take place Monday in seven nations: Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Germany and the U.S.

Although measuring just 18-inches tall, the laboratory-produced trees are genetic duplicates of three giants that were cut down in northern California more than a century ago. Remarkably, shoots still emerge from the stumps, including one known as the Fieldbrook Stump near McKinleyville, which measures 35 feet in diameter. It's believed to be about 4,000 years old. The tree was about 40 stories high before it was felled.

"This is a first step toward mass production," said David Milarch, co-founder of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a nonprofit group spearheading the project. "We need to reforest the planet; it's imperative. To do that, it just makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees that ever lived."

Milarch and his sons Jared and Jake, who have a family-owned nursery in the village of Copemish, Mich., became concerned about the condition of the world's forests in the 1990s. They began crisscrossing the U.S. in search of "champion" trees that have lived hundreds or even thousands of years, convinced that superior genes enabled them to outlast others of their species. Scientific opinion varies on whether that's true, with skeptics saying the survivors may simply have been lucky.

The Archangel leaders say they're out to prove the doubters wrong. They've developed several methods of producing genetic copies from cuttings, including placing branch tips less than an inch long in baby food jars containing nutrients and hormones. The specimens are cultivated in labs until large enough to be planted.

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