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Cloned trees from presidential estates form unique tribute in Missouri

Cloned trees from presidential estates form unique tribute in Missouri
By BETSY TAYLOR
Associated Press Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The slender little beech tree planted recently on property near the Missouri Botanical Garden looked pretty much like any other specimen. But it was special — both scientifically and historically.
The clump beech, cloned from one at President Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home on New York’s Long Island, joined an ash tree cloned from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, and plans are to add genetic replica trees from properties owned by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
Ultimately, the small grove will become a tree tribute to the four presidents represented on Mount Rushmore.
This unique nod to history and horticulture will grow on the grounds of the National Garden Clubs Inc., a nonprofit group with roughly 230,000 members that promotes a love of gardening in the United States and overseas.
The organization’s headquarters is on six acres next to the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is known for its own renowned gardens and its botanical research.
Creating the tribute has been a team effort.
The trees are being presented to the garden clubs’ headquarters by the Michigan-based Champion Tree Project and Connecticut-based Bartlett Tree Experts, which have been working to preserve the legacy of old-growth trees from presidential properties.
“We really look at this collection as a gift to America, to all of our children and grandchildren and generations to come,” said David Milarch, co-founder of the Champion Tree Project, based in Copemish, Mich.
He and his son, Jared, created the nonprofit in 1996 to preserve the genetics of “the last great trees of America.” The organization has cloned about 100 trees, many of them virgin, old-growth trees, including some of the oldest and largest trees in the nation. The organization also has an interest in trees with ties to history, such as trees planted by presidents or growing on their homesteads.
Milarch described several methods for copying trees: from extracting a single cell from tree tissue and replicating it to grafting methods that date back decades. Oregon-based Schichtel’s Nursery performs the cloning, he said.
By cloning trees, rather than just planting a tree’s offspring, the tree’s genetic material can be replicated. When the old-growth genetic copies are planted in reforestation projects, they can cross-pollinate with other trees ultimately creating stronger and healthier forests, Milarch said. It also provides a powerful educational tool, teaching people about the environment and history.
Visitors to both the nation’s Capitol and the St. Louis site can view ash trees cloned from George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
“There’s a reverence. A lot of people walk up and it’s like they’re going to a cathedral. For some, something clicks in their minds and they reflect on these men and all they’ve done for their country,” Milarch said.
“I think the idea of a presidential collection of trees is a stunning idea,” said David McMaster with Bartlett Tree Experts, based in Stamford, Conn., that donates labor and equipment to remove branches with buds from treetops to be cloned.
If the original tree dies due to a lightning strike or storm, as has been the case with the ash from Mount Vernon and a different, well-known tree from Roosevelt’s property, the genetic copies can be donated back to the site or viewed elsewhere.
The trees with presidential ties planted on the St. Louis property are a way “to preserve history through trees,” said Fran Mantler, executive director of National Garden Clubs.
The group was founded in 1929 from a 13-state effort to save the Redwood trees of California. It works to educate people about four gardening principles — design, landscape, horticulture and environment.
Its members come from about 6,600 garden clubs in the United States.
Members of the public visiting the headquarters’ gardens to see the presidential trees can also visit a recently redesigned and rededicated memorial garden to remember those who died in the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001.
On the Net:
National Garden Clubs: http://www.gardenclub.org/home.aspx Published in The Messenger 10.17.07

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