Science | Geography | Design & Technology

Ancient trees that could save the world

Could cloning be the answer? As we discover the incredible benefits of the world's oldest trees, we are losing them to climate change. But an exciting new project offers hope. The firefighters watched in horror as flames engulfed the great tree. Nicknamed the SenatorIt grew in Seminole County Park in Florida., the bald cypressA type of tree that flourishes in wet areas such as swamps and usually grows to around 100 feet. was over 3,500 years old. it had grown to a height of 165 feet. For generations, families had come to try to join hands around its 12-foot wide trunk. But the forest fire had finally put an end to it. Such huge, ancient trees are vital to the environment: 1% of the largest trees hold 50% of the carbon stored in forests. A single sequoiaA Californian tree which can grow to around 250 feet. can make up for the carbon footprint from one person’s whole life. But climate change has done enormous damage to these helpful giants. Droughts deprive them of the water they need and increase the risk of devastating fires. Insects are a threat too. In the Rocky MountainsThe biggest mountain range in North America, running for 3,000 miles from Canada to New Mexico. tiny mountain-pine beetles burrow into trees and kill them. In the past, the beetles were killed off by very cold winters; now that winters are warmer, they survive. In one year, 80% of British ColumbiaA province on the west coast of Canada. More than half of it is covered by forests.’s mature lodge-pole pines died. A few years ago, 129 million trees died in California. Alarmed, David Milarch and his son Jared set out to clone the largest trees of each giant species in the US. They drove around the country to take small branches from giants listed in the National Register of Big TreesThe size of each is calculated by adding the height to the circumference and a quarter of the width of the leaf canopy at the top.. The cuttings were then sent to a nursery so that new trees could be grown from them. The aim was to establish descendants of 800 trees in case the original ones died. Some of the new trees have been planted in the same forests as the originals, others at new sites such as the PresidioA former military base. in San Francisco and the Eden Project in Cornwall. Part of the plan is to increase genetic diversity in places which have never had ancient trees. David Milarch believes that every specimen has a contribution to make: “A 2,000-year-old tree knows a thing or two about survival.” Could cloning be the answer? Leaf relief? Yes: Ancient trees can take in up to 12 times as much carbon as younger ones, and contribute enormously to biodiversity. We must do all we can to preserve them. Every country should have an archive.  

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