George Washington Tree Cloned for Arbor Day Plantings

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During his visit, Norton pointed out to Milarch the last remaining 13 trees planted by Washington and asked if it would be possible for him to clone one of them as a way to keep alive the last living thing from the life and time of the country's first President.

Though there was no budget within the Champion Tree Project for the cloning of historic trees, the Milarch family decided to donate their own time to Mount Vernon. In 2001 they took genetic samples from the 13 trees—two tulip poplars, two white ashes, one hemlock, one white mulberry, and seven American hollies.

To date, the researchers have successfully cloned ten of the trees. On Arbor Day 2003, the first of these clones—a white ash—was planted at the U.S. Capitol Building. This Arbor Day the second clone, also a white ash, will be planted at the David Conklin Farmhouse, a historic site on Long Island.

On a tour of Long Island in 1790, Washington stopped at the farmhouse and ate a picnic lunch out in the field. The white ash clone will be planted at the picnic site as part of a promotional event for an organization of New York arborists known as Green Point.

"What we are saying is, Washington is revisiting Long Island," said David McMaster, a division manager for Bartlett Tree Experts in Southampton, New York. Bartlett is an international tree-care company and the prime sponsor of Green Point. Bartlett workers also serve as caretakers of the 13 surviving trees planted by George Washington.

Giant Sycamore

Norton and Milarch became close friends during their collaboration to clone the Mount Vernon trees, and Norton joined Milarch on a trip to Walla Walla, Washington. There, the Champion Tree Project was headed to collect a genetic sample from that state's largest sycamore.

While witnessing the sample collection, Norton said, "Wouldn't it be great to plant a Washington State sycamore on the grounds of George Washington's home?"

A search of 18th-century documents found the records of Mount Vernon's caretaker, Lund Washington. In February of 1783 he had noted President Washington's directions to plant sycamores on the bowling green.

"It would appear the planting of sycamore on the bowling green at Mount Vernon is satisfying a 221-year-old request," Norton said.

Milarch thought the idea was great and pledged the first clone of the champion Washington State sycamore to Mount Vernon. "It worked," Milarch said. "We are going to plant that sycamore on the bowling green on Arbor Day this year."

Interestingly, said Norton, the sycamore will be planted in a space vacated by a huge white ash that toppled during Hurricane Isabelle in September 2003. "The storm tore off one-half of the tree and it came crashing to the ground, opening this huge void—almost as if to say, Why don't you plant a sycamore here?'" Norton said.

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