MARTINEZ (AP) — More than 100 years after John Muir helped conserve thousands of acres of California wilderness, arborists are trying to clone a dying tree the naturalist brought to the San Francisco Bay area in the 19th century.
A 70-foot-tall giant sequoia that Muir brought from the Sierra and replanted in Martinez, Calif., caught a deadly disease, and arborists expect it to slowly die, the Contra Costa Times reported. A Michigan tree-cloning organization is now trying to replicate the towering tree by taking more than 700 cuttings and trying to grow them.
"It is a visible, tangible, living link to the past — Muir and his life and his stories," arborist Keith Park of the John Muir National Historic Site — where the tree is located — told the Contra Costa Times. "It has succeeded, to a point. But it is sick."
The sequoia is infected with a fungus that blocks the flow of water and nutrients. The fungus has infected many Bay area giant sequoias.
But cloning the tree is not easy. In fact, nobody has cloned a giant sequoia successfully before, according to the Times.
David Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Michigan has taken 2-inch cuttings from Muir's sequoia and placed them in a capsule. He controls their soil, water and air temperature and has also treated them with hormones and antibiotics, encouraging the cuttings to grow.
"It's nerve-racking. They are real finicky," Milarch said. "We're trying to create the exact scenario of where they love to grow."
The organization has successfully cloned other old trees, including Methuselah, a 4,870-year-old bristlecone pine in California's Inyo National Forest; a white mulberry from George Washington's yard at Mount Vernon; and tulip poplars from Monticello dating back to the days of Thomas Jefferson.