ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - An experiment in regrowing forests of the world's oldest trees led environmentalists this week to climb a nine-story tall, 2,000-year-old cypress in central Florida known as Lady Liberty.
After plucking cuttings from her crown, climbers packed them on ice and shipped the specimens overnight to the nonprofit Archangel Ancient Tree Archive's nursery in northern Michigan.
Organizers hope to root the clippings to grow genetically identical trees that will be replanted elsewhere in Florida in an effort to grow a new forest of giant cypresses.
The organization is engaged in similar projects in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Ireland and England to preserve the offspring of the best surviving specimens of ancient trees.
"If you ask any of us why we're doing it, it's for our grandchildren," said David Milarch, co-founder of the group, which aims to build new forests of 200 clones and younger trees to promote cross-pollination and help combat global warming.
He said 98 percent of the United State's "old growth forest," or natural forest which has survived at least 120 years, has been destroyed.
That was nearly the fate of Lady Liberty and a sister tree, called the Senator, which was 3,500 years old and about 118 feet tall when it was burned to the ground in 2012 by an arsonist.
Archangel took a cutting from what remains of the Senator and hopes to reroot it as well.
Trees bred from the Florida cypress will be planted north of Lady Liberty's home near Orlando, close to the Florida-Georgia state line, to account for warming climate patterns.
"It's a valid attempt. It's based on sound science and professional techniques. We have high hopes," said Andrew Kittsley, a plant biologist and the city of Orlando's forestry manager, who was one of the climbers this week.
Archangel organizers since 2012 have been planting in Port Orford, Oregon, what it calls a "super grove" of cloned coast redwoods and giant sequoias that were selected from the best specimens in Oregon and California, Milarch said.
Archangel has provided clones to the environmental attraction called the Eden Project in Cornwall, England to start a redwood forest, Milarch said.
In Ireland, the group has propagated specimens from ancient oak trees that have been dying off, he said.