News Stories

Clone that Tree!

When you find the oldest tree in the world, what do you do??You clone it, of course. The gnarled and twisted Methuselah bristlecone pine, discovered in the California mountains, isn't very pretty, but it is almost 5,000 years old, making it the oldest living tree on Earth. Its location is secret, so it doesn't fall victim to souvenir hunters.

Rick Weiss writes in the Washington Post that arborist Jared Milarch is attempting to clone Methuselah, and has produced several seedlings so far, which will be planted in the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. Milarch wants to line the streets of our nation's capitol with clones of our most famous trees. Even dead trees can be included, like Maryland's Wye Oak, which scientists managed to clone before it blew down last year. He says, "It beats Jurassic Park."

Milarch and his father have developed the Champion Tree Project, and plan to clone 850 trees. Several of their clones have already been planted at historic sites like Arlington Cemetery, the U.S. Capitol, Mount Vernon and the Sept. 11 Pentagon memorial.

What makes a champion tree? The right genes, a good location, the right care or just plain luck enable a tree to grow to a large size and live a long time. Some of this can't be passed on to clones, which may suffer when planted in places like D.C., with its heavy traffic pollution. But they're also naturally disease and drought resistant, so they're likely to survive.

Many bristlecones are 2,000 years old, but Methuselah is more than twice that. When Milarch first saw Methuselah, he says, "The wow factor was really there." It was already growing when Stonehenge was being built and before the Egyptian pyramids were built. It was 3,000 years old at the time of the fall of Rome.

Meanwhile, how is the original Methuselah doing? Since the tree was publicized in a 1958 National Geographic article, forest rangers have created the Methuselah Walk in Inyo National Forest near Bishop, CA. Visitors pass by Methuselah, but since the tree isn't marked, they don't know which one it is. There are fewer than 50 people who can identify the real thing. Forest manager John Louth tells them, "I need your word you are not going to publicize full frontal pictures of this tree."

Today they clone a tree?tomorrow it might be me. Does advanced technology look like magic if we don't understand it? Let's learn how to communicate!Don't miss our upcoming Dreamland show.

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