David Milarch wants to clone the UK’s biggest, oldest, and most ecologically important trees. The US tree conservationist has embarked on a $3 million project to reproduce and regrow Britain’s “super trees” and offer tens of thousands of the genetically identical saplings to schools, cities and landowners for free. “The idea is to put back what we have lost,” says Milarch. “It makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees with their supergenes. These trees, which can be 1,000 years or older, have weathered the industrial age and all the climate changes. They have proved that they can take everything.”

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Scientists have discovered the importance of “super trees” to the health of entire forests because they seed large areas and may contain as much as 25 percent of the total biomass. But even though they are super, these trees, which comprise less than 2 percent of the trees in any forest, are dying off rapidly under the threat of new roads, farms and settlements, not to mention droughts and new pests and diseases.

Cloning trees isn’t that easy. “It can take 1,000 pieces of plant to get two or three to root. It might take 5,000 pieces. We needed 15,000 attempts to get three clones from one redwood. All we need is one to root, one to grow, one to take off.” explains Milarch. But so far Milarch and his conservation organization, Archangel, have been able to clone 75 species, including redwoods, giant sequoias, Monterey cypresses, the Monterey Pine and the Methuselah bristlecone pine, which is 4,845 years old, and thought to be the oldest tree in the world.

Milarch expects to come up with a list of Britain’s “super trees” in the next few weeks and will start cloning this summer. Eventually, he hopes to create a complete archive of all of Britain’s most important trees, which would be made available to the public.

+ Archangel

Via The Guardian

Photos by Chris Booth (originally posted to Flickr as Capon Tree) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons and by Evelyn Simak [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons