Trees: Reloaded

Over the past few years, I have begun to think that Hollywood has run out of original ideas. Original ideas have not been overly abundant. Actually, judging by Hollywood’s revisiting, I would say that good, original ideas ended shortly after I turned 18. Every show I watched and loved as a kid has been redone… polished to a CGI gleam that blinds and baffles all at the same time. Honestly, I am beginning to think that Hollywood is out to prove how Gen X wasn’t nearly as cool as we thought we were (but we had a good imaginations).

On the other hand, seeing Optimus Prime real as life or TMNT as something more than lame rubber suits or X-men who can really change the (imagined) world does have a certain appeal. The modern world brings them to the glory that we always knew they deserved.

I thought this phenomenon was restricted to cartoon and comic book characters, but apparently the city of New York has decided to move the game into the botanical world. Specifically, trees. NYC has decided to clone 25 historical trees from thoughout the city, a few from each of the boroughs.

It is part of the Million Trees effort. If all goes well, these 25 trees will be cloned into 250 genetic copies that will be replanted in various spots around the city.

And I don’t know how I feel about that.

It implies that the genes had some bearing on the events that happened around these trees. Really, when it comes to historical trees, it was luck of the draw that George Washington walked by and an over-interested act of fate that prevented a New York minute from happening to it during the last century or two. Does a tree deserve to be replicated based on dumb luck? In that case, I know a few lucky morons who need to be turned over to science for the good of everyone (and I hope that the human cloning technique is still a few centuries off).

What ever happened to making new legends? Allowing for Nature to create the next generation of stories that we can awe over? Must we always attempt to recreate the past going forward into our future? Can I state for the record, that I don’t like watching the same movie twice so I don’t think that I would enjoy walking under the technologically created same tree 10 times.

Yes, on some level it is a marvel to witness our childhood and historical legends return to the world, young and remade, but in the end shouldn’t we be focusing on something new, something for the next generation to marvel and crow over?

17 thoughts on “Trees: Reloaded
  1. I think the whole exercise devalues the original trees. Why not take the seeds from each tree, get schools, communities etc. to grow the seed and then get them to plant the trees? That will start the history for each of the new trees in a much more positive way. It involves the whole community too, who should then value the trees they’ve helped to nurture.

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  2. Roger on

    Trees and other plants are cloned when they are propagated vegetatively as opposed to grown by pollinated seed. Nearly every named variety of fruit tree and ornamental tree is a “clone”. Many trees produce their own clones by suckering new stems off the root stock. If this is “technology”, it is technology that is thousands of years old, older than the invention of writing which allows us to communicate about trees.

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  3. Hanna on

    VP – I was thinking that seeds would be nice. A new generation raised by the next generation.

    Roger – You are right and for good reason fruit trees and ornamentals cloned, as it guarantees the genetically pleaseing traits of these species. I can understand that. They were cloned for genectic reasons, not historical ones. I am just wondering why you would clone historical trees. It is not as though the events that happened to them are carried over to the next generation.

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  4. I think the historical focus is a bit of PR.
    Picking a tree because it has proven to be resistant to the stresses of city life and is a proven survivor is a sound reason to clone. Choosing a tree in order to put up a marker that reads “George Washington walked under the tree this one was cloned from” sounds a bit looney to me.

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  5. I agree that it seems a bit odd. I agree with wiseacre that if there is some physical benefit then clone them. Why not gather the seed, if the trees produce it, and grow those. Children of the original but with their own “personalities.”

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  6. Roger on

    People are very sentimental about plants, especially when they are cuttings of plants in their families. I have had people literally crying because a very common Christmas cactus or other throw-away type plant was overwatered and looking bad. Each year I get dozens of calls from people who want to propagate a rose, tree, shrub, or some other plant from their parent’s or grandparent’s house. Why propagate a plant that has no special horticultural value or characteristics? Because it is a way to feel close to someone we have lost, or a time in our past. Many people just like to have stories to tell about their plants. If people want to feel close to a historical figure or event through plants, it is better than purchasing some manufactured collectibles.

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  7. The best reason I can think of not to vegetatively propagate these trees (at not to the exclusion of using a lot of other genetics) is precisely because these trees are likely to have to face far different conditions over the next century or so. The effects of global warming are likely to more acute in urban heat islands. A different array of pests and diseases will find their way into the Big Apple, along with other changes that aren’t even on our radar yet.

    The 250 trees are symbolic. But going the seed route would at least get a little variability into the gene pool and a better chance that the progeny of the historic trees will be around next century.

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  8. Roger on

    In regard to Ellis’s comment about changing global conditions, I wonder how he feels about dawnredwood, extinct all over the world until the last century, and ginkgo biloba, extirpated in North America millions of years ago until replanted recently. The Wollemy pine is likely to be the next on this list. Genetic diversity comes not only from plants that are contemporaries, but from plants that are from different eras in time. It is likely that climate change will make conditions in some locations more similar to the past, even the distant past. Remember that one prediction of global warming is the rerouting of the Gulf Stream, which would make Europe much much colder.

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  9. Roger: I don’t know enough about the particular upsides or downsides of those species in particular locations. I’d just say that in principle, I favor diversity over uniformity. So (with limits and caveats), the more species and diversity within species, the merrier. If those species have merit and utility, give them a shot. But maybe not widespread planting of single clones.

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  10. I agree with wiseacre. If they’ve been here for a long time then they have some traits that offer genetic value because of their longevity. Besides propagating 250 trees is not much in the grand scheme of things. Nurseries propagate thousands upon thousands of trees each year. With all the global warming talk isn’t it a good idea to plant a tree from either propagation method? Or why not do both? Preserve the old and encourage the new. That would create more diversity and make everyone happy.

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  11. I would have mixed the two different types. Clone is more widespread than most of you think. Some species propagate themselves (even weeds) by self pollinate and thus makes seeds that is in basic a clone of the orginial plant and still enjoy widespread changes in environment. THe bad side of cloning is the same as above. For diversity it is same as above for positive results but the negative side is that its difficult to cull out bad genetic which can make up a large slice of the seed variety. Also consider how the trees were first treated when they grow up in their time – they may had been seeded by themselves without human help or were more pampered or roughed by human from that time in the first 5-20 years of their lives. Nowaday the same service that purpose planting clones of historial trees often just plant them in the edges of the growing seasons and leave them alone to fight for survival without adding water or anything else. That could be a disadvantage of cloning too.

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  12. I think clone is too harsh of a word. It leads the mind toward mutant creatures and mad science. From what I understood of article is that there is nothing out of the ordinary here. They are simply propagating cuttings from these trees. I wouldnt mind seeing the “clone” of one of these trees at all. These trees have stood the test of time and are well suited for their environments. They are not talking about replacing all the trees in the city, so I dont think genetic diversity is really at risk here either. Infact, I recently took cutting’s from my parent’s magnolia tree to “clone” one for myself. To many people there is a great deal of value on the historical and personal attachment to specific trees.

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  13. I suspect NYC is staging this “cloning” event for publicity. I mean, cloning gets a good deal more attention that the mere propogation of trees.

    Frankly, I think it’s a silly–and likely expensive–idea. I agree with Ellis that diversity is important in a species. In addition, the success of these trees had much to do with the “nurture” part (environment). Success is not all “nature” (genetics).

    –Robin (Bumblebee)

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  14. Ironically, likely most are non-natives anyways. NYC, in its development, wiped out nearly all native tree species. So when they strive to “clone” historical trees, seems a bit of a contrived public relations exercise anyways.

    Though for purposes of the environment, I guess planting a tree is better than ripping one out….

    Sean

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  15. The whole idea is just so bizarre, and so typically New York. Of course, I say that as a former resident of Priceton, home of the Mercer Oak, for which they actually had a *funeral* when it toppled over.

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  16. I have to agree that seeds have been good enough for trees for eons, so why bother cloning? On the other hand, I think our planet needs all the trees it can get right now.

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