Even the longest-lived, heartiest organisms on earth must eventually succumb to disease and death. Or do they? A team of horticulturalists at the Michigan-based Archangel Ancient Tree Archive has just successfully cloned an ailing giant sequoia planted by conservationist John Muir at his family home in Martinez, California. As the last living witness to the great man’s life passes on, the organization hopes that its cloned descendents will help draw visitors to wherever they root.
Muir brought the 130-year old tree to the fruit ranch over a century ago as a sapling (wrapped in a damp handkerchief) from the Sierra Mountains. Now a majestic 75-feet tall, and dying of an airborne fungus, the tree’s healthy branches have been cloned. Archangel hopes that the first clone will be shipped to the John Muir National Historic Site in California within the year.
Keith Park, a horticulturalist from the National Park Service, trimmed two dozen cuttings from the tree’s branches and sent them to Archangel. The samples were then cut into hundreds of smaller pieces by father-and-son team David and Jake Milarch. The fragments were treated with a combination of water from misters and hormones, and kept at a constant temperature of 74 degrees. Before their achievement, it was thought that sequoias older than 80 years could not be viably cloned. Yet, the group responsible for cloning trees planted by George Washington at Mount Vernon proved that it was indeed possible.
While Archangel’s board of directors prohibits them from selling trees, they are able to clone plants for groups that support their work. By propagating the iconic sequoia, they seek to preserve the memory of Muir, finance their operations, and safeguard the mighty tree’s genetics for years to come.
Images via Archangel Ancient Tree Archive