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Cloning to give 2,000-year-old Lady Liberty new life

Kevin Spear Contact Reporter By Orlando Sentinel
December 28, 2015
A trio of climbers ascended the towering Lady Liberty on Monday with hopes of giving the 2,000-year-old cypress new life through cloning.
The tree's larger, older and better-known sibling, the Senator, at Big Tree Park in Seminole County was destroyed by arson nearly four years ago.
With a trunk 10 feet thick and height of nearly 90 feet, the surviving Lady Liberty is a skyscraper next to mature hickory, sweet gum and cabbage palm trees.
But its immense size and an 8-foot-tall security fence may not ensure the tree's continued longevity.
"I'm thinking it won't be here in another five years," said David Milarch, who runs the nonprofit Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a Michigan group pursuing reforestation with clones from the biggest and oldest trees.
Local climber Andy Kittsley, city of Orlando's forestry manager, responded: "All the more important we get a culture for a clone."
The tree's custodian, Seminole County, doesn't suspect the tree is in immediate jeopardy, but the charred hulk of the nearby Senator was a reminder that even celebrated trees don't last forever.
Starting from a forest floor in deep shadow and carpeted with leaves, climber Jim Clark fired a weighted bag skyward from an oversize slingshot. After missed attempts, the bag dragged a thin line over a top limb.
That thin line was used to hoist a thicker rope that the three climbers latched onto with rigging. They ascended vertically, looking as if they were climbing a ladder.
They made the journey look easy but some difficulty soon arose. Clark howled several times with irritation and pain over bee stings.  "I'm good," he shouted after each of many stings.
From below, the trio of climbers appeared to have the intimate company of puffy clouds, jetliners and vultures.
From above, as seen in video from a drone piloted by Archangel coordinator Steve Hamblin, the climbers appeared amid cypress needles as if birds in a nest.
The Senator was cloned years ago with a technique that grafted its tissue to roots of another cypress. At nearly 50 feet tall, that tree now stands at the entrance of Big Tree Park.
Archangel Ancient Tree Archive specializes in a cloning technique that coaxes tree tissue to grow its own roots, Milarch said.
He said the technique has been applied to 150 tree species, and 90 percent of those have been successfully replanted in the wild.
His son, Jake, was one of the climbers who snipped thin branches from the tree's top and let them flutter to the ground. Those cuttings would be the raw ingredients for cloning.
Back on the ground, the younger Milarch said Lady Liberty didn't have a lot of new growth in its crown.  "There might not be a lot of years left," he said.
The fresh tissue was packed in ice for overnight shipping to a cloning laboratory in Michigan.
John Alleyne, a retired research horticulturist at the University of Florida, trimmed the branches carefully, looking for prime samples and for any sign of disease or other distress. "Cloning is very, very possible," he said.

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