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The Green Life: John Muir's Giant Sequoia to Be Cloned

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July 22, 2013

John Muir's Giant Sequoia to Be Cloned

John Muir Giant SequoiaJohn Muir's beloved tree, a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), is dying. The 75-foot-tall tree, infested with two regional fungal diseases, is a measly 130 years old. Under healthy conditions sequoias can live for thousands of years.

In the early 1880s, after one of his trips to Yosemite, Muir brought the tree back and planted it at his home in Martinez, California, now the John Muir National Historic Site.

In an effort to save the tree and its connection to the famous naturalist, the park is having the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Copemish, Michigan, clone the tree from cuttings.

Approximately 400 cuttings from the original tree were sent to Archangel in April. Since then, the staff has been hard at work trying to save this living connection to John Muir.

Keith Park, horticulturist and preservation arborist at the John Muir National Historic Site, considers this an insurance policy. "I wouldn't want to wait too long and risk losing the tree," he said. 

For now, though, they are playing the waiting game. Archangel has had the cuttings for three months, and Tom Brodhagen, propagator with Archangel, described them as "healthy looking, green with pushed growth." The challenges of this project are the age of the original tree and the diseases that came with it, Brodhagen said.

"The fungal diseases are endemic to the region but we want to clean them up so they have a fresh start," Brodhagen said. If successfully planted, the saplings would eventually likely become infected with the same fungal diseases.

"On the face of it, it seems ridiculous to plant something that is doomed," Park said. "But from a historic preservation perspective, things ought to be the same or at least resemble John Muir's time here."

Cuttings of John Muir's Giant Sequoia TreeMisted twice daily and given a cocktail of root-stimulating growth hormones upon their arrival, the cuttings are situated in the Archangel office, where cofounder David Milarch watches them all day. In the coming months, roots should form. It takes four months to a year before old-growth trees like sequoias establish themselves.

Milarch, who also propagated President Theodore Roosevelt's trees, couldn't be happier with the work being done to save the trees of men responsible for the conservation of wild America. "Right here in this building, we have living history of those men's lives," he said. "I'm proud of that." 

 -- Images courtesy of the National Park Service and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

Christine_SMChristine Coester is an editorial intern at Sierra. A fan of flora and fauna, she has a passion for conservation and environmental stewardship. Currently a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, she is studying journalism with the hopes of making the world a better and greener place.



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