Cyclone Filomena crashed through central Spain in early January, pelting the Spanish capital with enough snow to bring down beloved, 100-year-old cork oak trees. Now it’s time to send in the clones . . . the tree clones, that is.
Forester Francisco Molina moves under one of the downed trees, chopping off a long branch, removing extra small twigs, and cutting the bough into eight-inch bits that will be bundled up and sent to the lab.
Molina’s team has been cataloguing and cloning trees in Madrid for 10 years. After Filomena hit, the agency offered to help replace sentimental trees, including cork oaks. Cork oaks are famous in Spain for producing acorns to feed the also-famous acorn-eating pigs raised there. (You also may remember these trees from a book you read as a kid: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, where Ferdinand the bull loves to sit just quietly under the beautiful cork tree.) So cork oaks are beloved, but that doesn’t change their fatal flaw: broad leaves that collect heavy snow that can cause the trees to topple.
Molina’s samples are scrubbed with a stiff brush before their required bath in fungicide and bleach. Afterward, growers place the squeaky-clean sticks in a substrate and watch for fresh baby leaves to sprout. They hope acorn seeds will form from these leaves and shoot out roots when replanted in pots. These new baby clone trees will have the exact same genes as the tree they came from.
Next comes a whole lot of patience: It takes years for trees to grow, and tree clones are no different. Decades will pass before the trees lost to Filomena stand tall again, but if tree cloners can get them to that point, the cork oaks should endure. Some cork oaks survive blight and insect attacks for more than 100 years. Molina says trees like that are worth preserving.
Only God can make life happen, of course, and that includes the life of a tree. But people can study His work to remake His creations. They’re following His playbook and taking every step from His design.
There is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. — Job 14:7