Can Cloning Giant Redwoods Save the Planet?

Redwoods are mighty trees, but would planting more of them help combat climate change?

Michael Balint

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is going up, but we’d rather it were going down. Trees use CO2 as food. So, maybe if we had more trees, that would help, right? You know what might even help more? Really, really BIG trees, like those Giant Redwoods that grow out in California. You know, the ones that reach hundreds of feet into the air. I bet they use a ton of carbon dioxide.

The thought isn’t bad, and as USA Today reports, that’s basically the plan laid out by the founders of a new non-profit group, the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. The group is on a quest to plant redwoods around the planet. “We need to reforest the planet; it’s imperative. To do that, it just makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees that ever lived,” Milarch said to USA Today.

The group’s founders, the Milarchs, lead by David and his sons Jared and Jake, think that redwoods, being so big and so tall and so old are somehow genetically superior to other species. So, they’re taking offshoots from big redwoods and planting them all over, in “Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Germany and the U.S.”

It’s an inspiring idea. The presence of a huge redwood would certainly grab attention and, one would suspect, make people think more about the forest.

But as a real plan to save the environment? Planting redwoods may not be the easiest or most effective route. Despite their often huge size, redwoods don’t actually grow all that easily. Sequoias are native to just one place: a narrow strip of land along the west coast of the U.S. The redwoods like the moderate temperatures, and the fog rolling in off the ocean provides water for the behemoth of a tree. The University of Wisconsin:

Though fog is not exactly essential for redwoods, the forests would be more restricted within their range without its cooling and dampening properties. These coastal fogs help to protect the redwoods from drought and heat during summer. The frequent fogs in summer appear to be more important than the amount of precipitation to this species of tree.

With ideal growing conditions, redwoods can grow a few feet each year. “But when the trees are stressed from lack of moisture and sunlight they may grow as little as one inch per year,” says the Government of California.

And, surprisingly, redwoods actually grow faster and store more carbon (and are thus better at limiting climate change) as they get older, says National Geographic. So, from a save-the-planet perspective, it actually makes more sense to try to save the existing redwoods—whose range is shrinking through climate change—than to try to plant them elsewhere. (Or, you know, do both.)

Redwoods may be hard to grow, but the spirit behind this idea is still quite good—figuring out which plants would be best at trapping and storing carbon dioxide is a field of ongoing research.

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