In an unusual nod to American history, a national gardening organization will plant a tree Friday cloned from President Teddy Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill home on Long Island. It will join an ash tree cloned from George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, with plans to add genetic replica trees from properties owned by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln — ultimately creating a tree tribute to the four presidents represented on Mount Rushmore in upcoming years.
The trees will be planted on the grounds of the National Garden Clubs Inc., a nonprofit with roughly 230,000 members that promotes a love of gardening in the United States and overseas. The organization has its headquarters on six acres in St. Louis, just next to the Missouri Botanical Garden — known both for 79 acres of renowned gardens and its botanical research.
The presidential trees are being presented to the garden clubs' headquarters by the Michigan-based Champion Tree Project and Connecticut-based Bartlett Tree Experts, which have been working to preserve the legacy of old-growth trees from presidential properties.
"We really look at this collection as a gift to America, to all of our children and grandchildren and generations to come," said David Milarch, co-founder of the Champion Tree Project, based in Copemish, Mich.
He and his son, Jared, created the nonprofit in 1996 to preserve the genetics of "the last great trees of America." The organization has cloned about 100 trees, many of them virgin, old-growth trees, including some of the oldest and largest trees in the nation. The organization also has an interest in trees with ties to history, like trees planted by presidents or growing on their homesteads.
Milarch described several methods for cloning trees: from extracting a single cell from a tree tissue and replicating it to grafting methods that date back decades. Oregon-based Schichtel's Nursery performs the cloning, he said.
By cloning trees, rather than just planting a tree's offspring, the tree's genetic material can be replicated. The genetic copies allow the trees to be planted in reforestation projects. It also provides a powerful educational tool, teaching people about the environment and history.
Visitors to both the nation's Capitol and the St. Louis site can view ash trees cloned from George Washington's Mount Vernon.
"There's a reverence. A lot of people walk up and it's like they're going to a cathedral. For some, something clicks in their minds and they reflect on these men and all they've done for their country," Milarch said.
"I think the idea of a presidential collection of trees is a stunning idea," said David McMaster with Bartlett Tree Experts, the tree care company based in Stamford, Conn., that donates labor and equipment to remove branches with buds from treetops to be cloned.
If the original tree dies due to a lightning strike or storm, as has been the case with the ash from Mount Vernon and a different, well-known tree from Roosevelt's property, the genetic copies can be donated back to the site or viewed elsewhere.
The trees with presidential ties planted on the St. Louis property are a way "to preserve history through trees," said Fran Mantler, executive director of National Garden Clubs. The Roosevelt tree will be a cloned clump beech tree.
The group was founded in 1929 from a 13-state effort to save the Redwood trees of California. It works to educate people about four gardening principles — design, landscape, horticulture and environment.
Its members come from about 6,600 garden clubs in the United States. While each club decides what it wishes to do, members pay 50 cents annually to the national organization, which provides resources, promotes education and sponsors projects. The public can visit the headquarters' gardens, Mantler said.
The St. Louis headquarters also has a memorial garden to remember those who died in the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001. It has been redesigned and will also be rededicated on Friday.