In January 2008, a small group of intrepid high school students from New York City’s John Bowne High School joined a team of arborists from Bartlett Tree Experts high in the canopy of one of Central Park’s oldest trees. They sought to make sure that this tree, a European Beech planted at the direction of Frederick Law Olmstead during the construction of Central Park, would have a legacy beyond its natural lifespan. They were surrounded that winter morning by organizations united by an ambitious vision: to clone New York City’s aging historic trees and populate the five boroughs with their offspring.
The NYC Historic Great Tree Cloning Project, sponsored by the TREE Fund, Bartlett Tree Experts and the New York City Parks Dept, exemplifies how advances in tree science have changed the landscape for tree preservation. In addition to protecting the existing tree canopy, urban forestry in the 21st century allows for preservation of the genetic material of culturally and environmentally significant trees to ensure that they are not lost forever. Additional support for the project was provided by the Coleman Company, Inc., Marmot Mountain LLC and David Milarch, co-founder of the Champion Tree Project International.
The Central Park Beech was the first of nine different tree species of historical and environmental significance to be cloned as part of an initiative to preserve and protect historic trees which have shaded New York’s public parks and streets for more than 100 years. Cuttings were taken from 25 trees throughout the city and shipped in Coleman coolers to Schichtels Nursery Oregon, which propagated ten genetically identical clones of each original tree. With the support of the TREE Fund, the students at John Bowne monitored the progress of the clones over time as part of their new agriculture curriculum.
Nearly six years later these clones were four to six feet tall and were ready to come home. On May 1, 2014, at 10:00 a.m., NYC Parks, NY Tree Trust and MillionTreesNYC were joined in Van Cortlandt Park by the TREE Fund, Bartlett Tree Experts, John Bowne High School, and Schichtels Nursery Oregon to plant clones from two of the original “mother” trees – American (aka white) ash (Fraxinus americana) and crack willow (Salix fragilis).
The “mother” American ash is located at the southeast corner of the parade grounds (adjacent to the event location) and has a diameter of 54″ and a height of 85′. It is one of few exceptionally large ash trees in the Bronx. As with all ash within New York City, the ash trees propagated from that tree will be monitored for signs of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and will receive appropriate management to protect them from the threat of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). Additionally, some of the ash progeny will remain in Oregon, insulated from the threat of EAB, thus ensuring that the genes of NYC’s historic ash tree are preserved.
The enormous crack willow resides at the northeast end of Van Cortlandt Park has reached a height of 110 feet. It has two main leaders, one with a 37 inch diameter and one with a 54 inch diameter.
These are the first of many trees that will be planted throughout New York City as part of the MillionTreesNYC campaign. They will serve as preservation ambassadors, representing the need to protect what could so easily be lost to development or pest and disease. NY Tree Trust will manage the care of this next generation, working to ensure that the progeny of New York City’s Great Trees have every chance to grow to greatness themselves.
Here is a list of the trees of historic significance that have been or will be cloned. Tree Trust Development Manager James Kaechele says, “By summer’s end we will have an interactive map with all of the Great Trees listed with a bit of background on each.”
M-CP = Central Park
BK-PP = Brooklyn’s Prospect Park
BX = Bronx
Q = Queens
M = Manhattan
SI = Staten Island
Boro Common Name Latin Name Location
1 M-CP London Plane Platanus x acerifolia 97th St Transverse
2 M-CP Horse Chestnut Aesculus sp. By the Pool (nr 100th Entrance on west side)
3 M-CP Cut Leaf Beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Cut Leaf’ Cherry Hill
8 M-CP European Beech Fagus sylvatica Great Lawn
9 M-CP Crab apple Malus sp. Conservatory Gardens
13 BK-PP London Plane Platanus x acerifolia Concert Grove
15 BK-PP European Hornbeam Carpinus betulus Near boathouse
17 BX London Plane Platanus x acerifolia Van Cortlandt Park, Parade Grounds
18 BX American Ash Fraxinus americana Van Cortlandt Park, Parade Grounds
23 BX Crack Willow Salix fragilis Van Cortlandt Park
26 Q Persian Parrotia Parrotia persica Kissena Park
28 Q Manchurian Linden Tilia mandshurica Kissena Park
30 Q Beech ‘Quercifolia’ Fagus sylvatica ‘Quercifolia’ Kissena Park
31 Q European Beech Fagus sylvatica Weeping Beech Park
32 Q Katsura trees Cercidiphyllum japonicum Kissena Park
34 M English Elm Ulmus carpinifolia Stuyvesant Square West
35 M English Elm Ulmus carpinifolia Washington Square
39 SI Horse Chestnut Aesculus sp. Tappan Park
47 Q Parson’s Fullmoon Maple Acer japonica var Parsonii Kissena Park
48 Q Japanese maple Acer japonica Kissena Park
About TREE Fund
The TREE Fund is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in urban forestry and arboriculture (the science of caring for trees in a landscape). Since 2002 the TREE Fund has distributed nearly $2.4 million in research grants, scholarships and funding for environmental education to advance the science, practice and safety of tree care and engage the next generation of tree stewards.
With support from individual and corporate donors and sponsors, TREE Fund research has contributed to:
- Better understanding of air pollution reduction and carbon sequestration by trees
- Quantification of the benefits trees provide to urban settings
- Improved survival rates for trees in difficult sites
- Improved strategies for vegetation management by utilities
- More effective disease and pest management strategies for urban trees
For more information, visit www.treefund.org.
—blog post adapted from a press release by Mary DiCarlo, firstname.lastname@example.org