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Cloning Lady Liberty

Most of us know about the statue of liberty just south of Manhattan. There’s another Lady Liberty in the US, and she’s much older than the brass woman welcoming huddled masses from the east. This senior Lady Liberty is a 2400-year-old cypress tree, and a nonprofit organization wants to create more just like her.

The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive wants to create a living genetic library. On December 28 the organization collected a sample of the 89-foot tall, 10-feet diameter and 32-foot circumference bald cypress of Big Tree Park in Longwood, Seminole County Florida. This follows the death of its 3,500-year-old cousin, the Senator that was destroyed in a fire in 2012. After the Senator burned down, the forest service began to more carefully monitor Lady Liberty. Unfortunately, analysis revealed that it’s likely LL will die within the next five years.

Seminole County’s natural-lands program manager, Jim Duby said in a statement, “Having what happened to the Senator, we cannot sit back and not do anything.”

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To defend from the loss of the bald cypress genetic line to which the Senator and Lady Liberty belong, Archangel Ancient Tree Archive asked to step in and propagate Lady Liberty. Samples will be used to grow clones that will help with research and reforestation in coming years. Its extreme age is thought to be a sign of superior genetics well worth preservation.

“We believe that this tree is something special. Throughout time, it has seen droughts and disease, and over time, it has acquired or developed the DNA to withstand those things.” Jake Milarch of Archangel told Nature World News.

The process of cloning plants isn’t nearly as challenging as it is with mammals, obviously. It’s also known as vegetative propagation, and some plants like strawberries do it naturally. Archangel aims to create up to 100 clones of the iconic cypress.

Once Lady Liberty’s clones are of sufficient height and girth, some will be added to the living archive, while others will be replanted at the site. Additional clones will be donated to schools and organizations in Florida.

Archangel Ancient Tree Archive planted the first “super grove” in Oregon to maintain the legacy of the oldest and largest redwoods. In 2011, the nonprofit organization performed similar work in Ireland, where the group collected 130 of the country’s oldest trees and reintroduced them to the landscape. In 2004, they cloned one of the last original trees from George Washington’s estate. So far, AATA has cloned 70 “champion” trees (the largest tree of a given species).