Scientists Are Trying to Save Historic Trees By Cloning Them

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The world’s oldest trees have survived thousands of years of droughts, floods, thunderstorms, and pathogens. But now, thanks to humans, they’re disappearing. Logging and development have savaged forests that grew, in some cases, for millennia, and less than 10 percent of old-growth forest in the U.S. still survives.

But, if humans are largely responsible for destroying forests, they’re also working hard to preserve them—and one preservation group is taking a truly creative approach.

According to Smithsonian, a non-profit organization called the Archangel Tree Archive is trying to save iconic trees by cloning them. 

So far, the organization has compiled a list of one hundred iconic trees to preserve—but they also take requests. Scientists from the organization travel around the world, gathering genetic information from the trees, then identify new locations to plant them in.

While some of the trees were selected for their impressive age, others were chosen for the historical events they stood witness to. For instance, Archangel has not only cloned California’s redwoods, but also preserved trees near the historic homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

The project serves two primary purposes. Scientists hope to study the genetic makeup of old trees in order to determine what makes them so durable. But the organization is also interested in historic preservation: They want to ensure these trees live on for future generations.

Jim Duby, the program manager for Seminole County, Fla., is one of the Archangel Tree Archive’s biggest fans. After a famous Seminole County bald cypress known as the Senator was burned down three years ago, Duby started to worry about the many other historic trees in the area—especially the Senator’s former neighbor, an approximately 2000-year-old tree known as Lady Liberty.

Fortunately, Archangel agreed to add Lady Liberty to its list. The group will be visiting Seminole County’s Big Tree Park in December to collect shoots from the ancient cypress.

“I had parents who recalled going to see the Senator with their grandparents, and their grandparents had been there with their grandparents,” Duby told Smithsonian. “I think we’d be kicking ourselves if, God forbid, something similarly tragic happened to Lady Liberty and we hadn’t done the cloning.”

[h/t: Smithsonian]