‘Who or what are Hyperion, Helios and Icarus ?’ one might ask. Well, casting aside references to classical mythology, Hyperion, Helios and Icarus are trees. In fact, they are very large trees. Hyperion is the tallest known tree. It is a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) that is 379 feet tall, probably 700 to 800 years old - growing in Northern California. Helios and Icarus are the second and third tallest trees. General Sherman, a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is said to be the largest tree on Earth by volume.
So are these facts collected just for entry in the Guiness Book of Records ? Well no, they are also of great interest to the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. This organisation has been collecting samples from dozens of America’s oldest and largest redwoods and sequoias.
When a suitable tree is found, climbers take samples from the growing tips of the tree and these are then either
- spliced / grafted onto the roots of stock saplings OR
- dipped in a hormone cocktail and grown on in a agar gel or peat mixture.
Using such techniques, Archangel has produced many young plants that are clones of America’s “finest and best” and these are being used to create new stands of redwood forest. Archangel believes that the rapid growth of such trees is important in terms of carbon capture and sequestration (locking the carbon away) and they also serve as a repository of ‘ancient DNA’. Archangel argues that in the past the best trees from woodland and forest were felled to provide timber for ship mast, boat building, house construction etc. so it is important to search across countries and continents to find, and then preserve and multiply, the best.
Apart from the redwoods and sequoias, Archangel is now looking for old ash trees (in the U.S.A.), specimens that have survived the onslaught of the emerald ash borer. The emerald ash borer is now considered to be one of the most destructive non-native insects in the United States and responsible for the death of millions of ash trees (it attacks most species of Fraxinus in the States). It may be that such an approach may be useful with our ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior), i.e. finding those that are resistant to Chalara and then cloning these to establish new populations that are resistant to ash die back.
Archangel has also been at work in Ireland, where it has collected a number of genetically different samples of Oak (Quercus robur) from Charleville – see here, which have been grown on in the Netherlands.