CMU Public Radio in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, filed this intriguing story about our Activities.
Michigan residents are traveling the world to collect and archive the biggest, hardiest trees. They hope to preserve these trees for use against the growing impact of global warming.
In a warehouse just off of M115 in Copemish – that’s in Manistee county – sits the Archangel Tree Archive.
Within these walls a team of citizen scientists work on cloning old growth trees from around the world and so far have planted roughly 300,000 trees in what they call ‘living libraries.’
“You’re looking at the impossible. It’s like we say at Archangel the impossible just takes a little longer”
David Milarch is the co-founder of Archangel. He lifted up a tarp on a long white table to reveal roughly 7,000 tiny redwood clippings just beginning to take root.
“And I’m happy to say that we have the process down to about a 90-95% success rate. Even on the 3,000 year old redwoods.”
The first part of the process involves climbing to the tops of old growth trees, which in the case of redwoods can be as high as 360ft, and clipping off the ends of branches where growth is newest.
David Milarch’s son, Jake, explained. “Some of the hormones and chemicals are different near the top of the tree than at the bottom of the tree. Much more vigorous and new growth at the top compared to the bottom, imagine a pine tree, the older they get the branches kind of die and fall away so the stuff at the bottom is not really good and that’s maybe at 200 feet? The real good stuff is at 280 – 300 feet.”
The reason they need these fresh cuts is because those cuts are what gets planted back in the Archangel warehouse to make new trees.
“From that one tiny piece you can make thousands of trees. So from one tiny piece we can make a living, growing tree. We can root it, and we’ll actually pot it up and start it in our lab.”
David said this method of cloning, called asexual propagation, initially met resistance in the scientific community. Especially when it came to redwoods, they were told it just wouldn’t work. “It’s impossible, getting top cuttings from 2,000 year old redwoods won’t work, we’ve tried.”
But, said David, he believes that those scientists just weren’t willing to climb high enough to get the right clippings.
So why do the Milarch’s say it’s important to scale the dizzying heights of a redwood tree to get the right clippings?
“Well now we have this thing called climate change and we need the strongest, healthiest forests we can to sequester carbon, provide shade, produce oxygen, and we find ourselves with forests that are the junk of the junk of the junk genetically. That’s not good.”
What Milarch means when he said we have the ‘junk of the junk’ is when loggers cut down trees they often go for the biggest trees in the forest. “Because they were the straightest, the biggest, and made the most money.”
Milarch believes the big trees are often the most genetically ‘fit’ trees in the forest. When they’re selectively removed over time we’ve been left with smaller, less disease resistant trees or, as he says, the junk of the junk.