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Monday, March 23, 2015 - 14:15

Europe's first old-growth redwood forest took root at the Eden Project today (Monday March 23) with the planting of a cloned sapling from one of the biggest trees ever.

In an historic moment for the project, Eden co-founder Sir Tim Smit and celebrated tree champion David Milarch dug in the sapling on a hillside overlooking the home of the world-famous Biomes.

Sir Tim said: “We’re really excited about this, we’re going to plant a hundred trees to the north of the Eden site to form a living library. It feels really odd to hold these saplings and know that they might well be around for another 3000 years from now.

“The climate in Cornwall is not dissimilar from Oregon and northern California where these trees grow naturally so Eden offers absolutely perfect conditions for them.”

David Milarch, a former biker-gang member and co-founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive (AATA), based in northern Michigan, USA, said: “This is the culmination of hopes, dreams, aspirations and a lot of hard work. These trees are a great green hope for the future.

“Near the end of their lives, coast redwoods put out basal sprouts in a circle around their trunk. This ‘fairy ring’ of clones ensures that even when the parent tree dies it’ll live on in a dozen or so sprouts. It will do that indefinitely so these trees will essentially live forever.

“What Tim and Eden are doing here is planting an eternal forest. This is an archive, a living library of genetics that can be utilised not just for our generation, but for hundreds of generations into the future to rebuild and replace what we’ve damaged.”

The sapling planted today was cloned from the Fieldbrook Stump, the remains of a famous northern Californian redwood which was felled in 1890 when it was around 3,500 years old.

If it hadn’t been cut down it would likely be the world’s largest tree. It left a stump 35 feet in diameter, wider than any other known single trunk. Material was taken from basal shoots that grew from the stump to clone the new saplings.

It is identified as the tree reputedly cut by William Waldorf Astor, the American millionaire and British resident, and shipped to the UK as the clincher to win a drunken bet that he could make a table seating 40 from a single cross slice.

The slice was never made into a table, and rests in the garden of Lord Astor’s home Clivedon, now owned by the National Trust. Lord Astor later denied the story with a letter to The Times, threatening to sue anyone who repeated it. More information at (five minutes 40 seconds in).

The sapling is one of a specially-selected batch of 100 specimens of Champion Coast Redwoods that have been sent to Eden, created from living plants up to 4,000 years old.

Coast redwoods are the tallest living things and can grow to nearly 400 feet in height. Eden’s gardeners hope that like the forebears, the young redwoods will grow to great heights and prosper for thousands of years to come.

The  Archangel Ancient Tree Archive’s mission is to propagate the world’s most important old growth trees before they are gone, archive the genetics of ancient trees around the world and reforest the Earth with the offspring of these trees.

The AATA team led by David Milarch is against all odds preserving the genetics of these trees, something that was thought to be impossible before Archangel spent four years on thousands of failures before eventual success.

Each of the specimens that the AATA propagate are cloned from a single tree. This means that the resulting offspring are a full genetic match to the original whereas a specimen grown from a seed will have half of the DNA of each parent.

The technique is similar to growing a cutting. Archangel sends climbers to the top of the forest giants to take cuttings from the fast-growing tips. Stumps of felled trees often put out sprouts, which can also be collected and cloned. The samples are spliced on to roots of stock saplings or dipped in hormones and bedded in peat or agar.

Inspired by the success of Archangel in propagating the ancient trees, Eden is planning a UK-wide ancient tree cloning project. It will build on the great work of the Woodland Trust and Ancient Tree Forum in mapping the UK’s ancient trees.

The UK has more ancient trees than the rest of northern Europe put together, with over 130,000 already mapped. Any tree over 400 years old is likely to be wild, and therefore more diverse than modern forestry selections. The project will preserve, and celebrate this precious legacy.