Francisco Molina works with a cork oak destroyed by the Filomena snowstorm in Las Rozas, Spain. (REUTERS/Juan Medina)

Francisco Molina works with a cork oak destroyed by the Filomena snowstorm in Las Rozas, Spain. (REUTERS/Juan Medina)

Foresters will send these branches to a lab for cloning. (REUTERS/Juan Medina)

Foresters will send these branches to a lab for cloning. (REUTERS/Juan Medina)

The beautiful cork oaks are famous in Spain.

The beautiful cork oaks are famous in Spain.

This is an acorn from a cork oak.

This is an acorn from a cork oak.

A woman harvests bark from a cork oak in Coruche, Portugal. (AP/Armando Franca)

A woman harvests bark from a cork oak in Coruche, Portugal. (AP/Armando Franca)

Send in the Clones

Posted: May 1, 2021

Cyclone Filomena crashed through central Spain in early January. Historic, 100-year-old cork oak trees fell under the weight of Filomena’s snow. Who will save the day? Tree cloners hope to.

Forester Francisco Molina moves under one of the downed trees. He chops off a long branch, removes extra small twigs, and then cuts the branch into eight-inch bits. These pieces will be bundled up and sent to a lab.

The agency Mr. Molina works with has been cataloguing and cloning trees in Madrid for 10 years. After Filomena hit, the tree rescue team offered to help replace the cork oaks. Cork oaks are famous in Spain. They produce acorns that feed the also-famous acorn-eating pigs raised there. (You also may remember these trees from a book: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Ferdinand the bull loved to sit peacefully under the beautiful cork tree.) But cork oaks have broad leaves that collect snow. The snow’s weight can cause the trees to fall.

So . . . how do you clone a tree? Mr. Molina’s samples are scrubbed with a stiff brush. Next they get a bath in fungicide (fungus-killer) and bleach. After that, growers place them in a substrate (a substance that gives them nourishment, such as soil). They watch for fresh, baby leaves to sprout. They hope acorn seeds will form from these leaves. The acorns will shoot out roots. These little plants will be placed in pots. They will have the exact same genes as the tree they came from. 

What’s next? 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 cork oaks are hardy. They survive blight and insect attacks, sometimes for more than 100 years. Mr. Molina says trees like that are worth preserving.  

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