In Celebration of Trees

How Cuttings Become Trees

How do you cut off the tip of a branch and turn it into a tree with the same DNA?  That’s something that the experts said couldn’t be done for trees thousands, even hundreds of years old.  Yet Archangel Ancient Tree Archive has done it.  Many times over, in fact.

All of the giant sequoia and coast redwood cuttings that were harvested during this climbing expedition have already started on that journey, thanks to the skill and effort put in by Archangel staff and volunteers.  Jim Clark, an Archangel volunteer, put in many hours leading that effort and fortunately for us, took many photos and video clips along the way so that we could see how it is done.

This post is a tribute to the heroic effort put in by Jim Clark, who contributed most of the following photos, captions and video clips. Thank you, Jim!

The material is brought off the mountain, wrapped in wetted newspaper, packaged into transport bags and labeled clearly who the mother tree is.

The material is brought off the mountain, wrapped in wet newspaper, packaged into transport bags and labeled clearly who the mother tree is.

The collection of material was kept on ice overnight and all the way to the USDA agricultural inspection offices.

The collection of material was kept on ice overnight and all the way to the USDA agricultural inspection offices.

Jake Milarch is holding the precious cargo above his head while Jim Clark is holding the agricultural certificate.

Jake Milarch is holding the precious cargo above his head while Jim Clark, awaiting his flight at the San Francisco airport, is holding the agricultural certificate.

Jim Clark flew with the cutting material overnight to Traverse City, Michigan, and from there, drove to the destination of Archangel headquarters in Copemish.  He was pretty happy to arrive home with such a precious load of cuttings, as can be seen in the happy dance video below.

 

Tom Brodighan, Jim Clark and Chris all inspected the cuttings upon arrival.

Tom Brodighan, Jim Clark and Chris Moore all inspected the cuttings upon arrival.

First the plant cuttings undergo 10 minutes of sanitizing in plant tissue-friendly disinfectant.

First the plant cuttings undergo 10 minutes of sanitizing in plant tissue-friendly disinfectant.

Once cleaned up and rinsed of disinfectant, the most lime-green tips with the newest, freshest growth are selected.

Once cleaned up and rinsed of disinfectant, the most lime-green tips with the newest, freshest growth are selected.

These are the result of pulling the premium stuff out of the tips. These refined cuttings will become the final explant for the grow cubes

These are the result of pulling the premium stuff out of the tips. These refined cuttings will become the final explant for the grow cubes

72 grow cubes above, and plant material ready to be propagated.

72 grow cubes above, and plant material ready to be propagated.

Close-ups of selected branch tips on ice.

Close-ups of selected branch tips on ice.

These healthy green cuttings are what tree propagators’ dreams are made of.

These healthy green cuttings are what tree propagators’ dreams are made of.

Next step is to select a cutting and dip it in a specified hormone concentration to stimulate root growth.

Next step is to select a cutting and dip it in a hormone concentration to stimulate root growth.

Then take a rooting cube . . .

Then take a rooting cube . . .

Place the cutting into a rooting cube.

Place the cutting into a rooting cube.

Voila! A sequoia cutting ready to grow into a tree.

Voila! A sequoia cutting ready to grow into a tree.

The yellow mass right in the middle of the fingertip is called a callus, which is an undifferentiated mass of cells which gives rise to root primordia, and then full-fledged roots!

Above is a Stagg cutting pulled for inspection after three weeks in the rooting cube.  The yellow mass right in the middle of the fingertip is called a callus, which is an undifferentiated mass of cells which gives rise to root primordia, and then full-fledged roots!  WooHoo!  A new tree is coming to life!

Repeat the process many times, and pretty soon there is a young sequoia forest sprouting.

Repeat the process many times, and pretty soon there is a young sequoia forest sprouting.

Stick cuttings get done first. When the trays of cuttings are finished you should have a tidy pile of small, premium material, kept moist and chilled throughout the whole process.

Stick cuttings get done first. When the trays of cuttings are finished you should have a tidy pile of small, premium material, kept moist and chilled throughout the whole process.

Below is a time-lapse version of what it is like to put together a flat of 72 tiny, ancient, new cuttings.

 

Over 10 flats of trees started.

Over 10 flats of trees started.

Next, on to the tissue culture method of propagating new trees using cuttings from ancient trees.  One of the differences between the rooting block approach and the tissue culture methods of propagation is the size of the plant material.

The plant material on the left is the proper size for tissue culture propagation, whereas the cutting on the right, about 2-1/2 “ (6.5 cm) is a good size for using in rooting blocks.

The plant material on the left is the proper size for tissue culture propagation, whereas the cutting on the right, about 2-1/2 “ (6.5 cm) is a good size for using in rooting blocks.

Also, the tissue culture approach requires sterile conditions.  Here are the cleaning steps required when using the tissue culture approach.

Step 1 disinfect for 10 minutes in a sanitizing solution.

Step 2 immerse in an antimicrobial solution of hydrogen peroxide to oxidize the bacterial cells and dissolve the cutinous, waxy layer on the plant surface.

Step 3 immerse in a biological detergent.

Step 3 immerse in a biological detergent.

Step 4 rinse in previously sterilized distilled water.

Step 4 rinse in previously sterilized distilled water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 6 all the alcohol must be rinsed off. Any residue will penetrate plant cells and kill them.

Step 6 all the alcohol must be rinsed off. Any residue will penetrate plant cells and kill them.

Step 5 one last disinfectant for 10-15 seconds in 70% alcohol.

Step 5 one last disinfectant for 10-15 seconds in 70% alcohol.

Now, let’s do tissue culture.

Now, let’s do tissue culture.

Tissue culture generally means pieces of a plant, intact pieces or branch tips.

Tissue culture generally means pieces of a plant, intact pieces or branch tips.

The media used for tissue culture has just the minimum amount of growth regulator to stimulate roots with pH set at 5.7.

The media used for tissue culture has just the minimum amount of growth regulator to stimulate roots with pH set at 5.7.  The black you see is activated carbon that is added to absorb waste metabolites and it also provides darkness as a stimulant for root initiation.

One of the many benefits of tissue culture is that these plants are sterile. They are certified pathogen-free and can be shipped globally.

One of the many benefits of tissue culture is that these plants are sterile. They are certified pathogen-free and can be shipped globally.

The small pieces of tissue grow until they start pushing the caps from the inside.

The small pieces of tissue grow until they start pushing the caps from the inside.

Awesome! Reminder: scientific experts said this was impossible.

Awesome! Reminder: scientific experts said this was impossible.

Take a hard look at this image for a few moments to really absorb this result. The little tree in there, from a genetic standpoint, is over 3000 years old. That’s truly amazing!

Take a hard look at this image for a few moments to really absorb this result. The little tree in there, from a genetic standpoint, is over 3000 years old. That’s truly amazing!

Once the plantlets are in their culture vessels they are put under special spectrum lighting.

Once the plantlets are in their culture vessels they are put under special spectrum lighting.

In the frame of this photo are approximately 400 jars, each with 3-5 plantlets.

In the frame of this photo are approximately 400 jars, each with 3-5 plantlets.

Here is evidence of the real power of these tissue culture methods: existing trees in the Archangel collection.

Here is evidence of the real power of these tissue culture methods: existing trees in the Archangel collection.

These trees are growing in the room adjacent to the tissue culture lab.

These trees are growing in the room adjacent to the tissue culture lab.

Thank you, Jim Clark, Archangel volunteer extraordinaire, for your unceasing efforts and marvelous photos.

Thank you, Jim Clark, Archangel volunteer extraordinaire, for your unceasing efforts and marvelous photos.

In the next post, Planting Archangel Trees, you will see where some of the Archangel cloned trees have been planted.

4 thoughts on “How Cuttings Become Trees

  1. Ruth Williams

    Somehow I missed the link for ‘following’ your blog, Philip. So just now I’ve read through the whole thing, and what a trip!! It’s a three-fer: travel, trees, and science. Thank you for sharing all this with us!

  2. Barb McCune

    I just now have had a chance to read over all this material. It’s such a wonderful project. I’m so thrilled that you are taking part in and will keep us informed. Your Uncle Ernie would be right there with you! He loved trees and science – what a combination… And I’m proud that the Archangel headquarters is in Michigan, close to the cabin… Thanks Philip!! Barb

  3. Karen Lewis

    Fantastic blog, Phillip! The Archangel project is fascinating and makes me hopeful. I would love to know how these trees do in their new homes.

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