Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 12:57 EDT

New York Trees Cloned to Preserve History

January 11, 2008

The Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benape has decided enough is enough. New York is often seen as a city of sidewalks and skyscrapers, plenty of concrete with little natural beauty. He wants to break that stereotype and show people the natural side of New York, which already abounds in historical trees.

As part of the “Million Trees NYC” project announced last year, 25 historical trees will be cloned. The plan is to add a million new trees to public spaces over the course of the next ten years. Nine species are included in the 25 trees, five from each of the five New York boroughs. Each of the target trees has lived for at least a century, or has some special significance to the community. The St. Nicholas elm in upper Manhattan may be New York’s oldest tree at close to 230 years old. George Washington is said to have walked under its branches during the American Revolution. Trees such as this one are important to preserve, and in this instance, important to clone.

To start that process, six inches to a foot of new growth has been snipped off of each tree. These sections will be sent to eastern Oregon to a scientific tree nursery. If everything goes as expected, the saplings will return in two years to be replanted.

There are several teams involved in the cloning effort: the Central Park Conservatory ““ the group who manages all 840 acres of Central Park, Bartlett Tree Experts, the nonprofit Tree Fund, and Coleman Co. ““ the camping equipment maker whose coolers will be used to ship the tree cuttings to Oregon.

David McMaster, a Bartlett vice President said that the cloning is a two part process. Cuttings are first grafted to the roots of the same species, and later the new growth is peeled away to create a sapling with the original tree’s DNA. These trees must be healthy to be cloned, and the result of a successful cloning is a genetically identical tree. Each cutting produces ten copies of the original tree.

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