One Tree at a Time

I love libraries, adore them. I love strolling up and down the aisles listening for all the whispered words leaking out from between the covers, words that someone spent immeasurable hours to arrange in what she/he deemed the perfect order, words that wakened someone at night from a deep sleep to grab a pen in case the words escaped never to be retrieved. But I’ve stumbled upon another kind of library, and I am in awe of its creation. This library is a living library of old-growth tree genetics, an idea conceived in the creative mind of David Milarch.

Milarch grew up watching and working on his father’s tree farm in northern Michigan, learning early on that everything of value in this life requires hard work to protect it. Alcohol had its vicious hold on Milarch’s body and life, that took him very close to the end. While surviving a near-death experience of a failing liver and kidneys, he had a vision of saving trees, a mission that saved him and just might save the planet. He put pen to paper and outlined The Champion Tree Project, which later morphed into the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in 1994.

In an interview with, Milarch told the story of his twenty years of cloning old-growth trees, “the oldest and largest living organisms on our planet,” Milarch said. His mission is to rebuild the world’s old-growth redwood forest. He clones the world’s ancient trees, mostly giant sequoia and redwood. Some of the redwood he gathers DNA from are 2000 to 4000 years old. For his reforestation, he uses trees that are resistant to the effects of global warming. The largest sequoias are found in 75 groves in western Sierra Nevada, California. These trees are massive, with bark that is 45 centimetres thick, with a height of more than 90 metres. In 2021, 10-14% of the 75,000 trees with diameters greater than 122 centimetres were destroyed by fire, whereas before 2015 the trees withstood the assault. One of these trees, named General Sherman, can store about 86 years’ worth of one person’s carbon emissions, says

Milarch and his expert crew mix the DNA of the oldest and strongest trees to help them resist diseases as they grow. Milarch believes one selected tree can provide for five million trees over a four-year period. It is the old-growth trees that are a solution to climate change, and they must be protected at all costs. Eight thousand tree species are on the endangered list. The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a non-profit organization, focuses on propagation, reforesting, and archiving. The website provides reference to the science relied on, an extensive list of research and studies performed around the world. has this to say about the world’s oldest tree – “In eastern California, a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva), known as Methuselah, has been long considered Earth’s oldest living thing. According to tree-ring data, Methuselah is 4,853 years old – meaning it was well established by the time ancient Egyptians built the pyramids at Giza.”

We so easily discard trees in our race for products, to feed our madness to consume. In my own area, giant hemlocks are cut down and discarded for no other reason than they are in the way. We don’t think of alternate solutions, of how to place hydro poles strategically so as not to interfere with these trees or how to build homes without tearing every tree down to make construction easier. The Tree Archive website poses the question – “If you were down to your last bit of money, wouldn’t you take action?” We would, and our old-growth trees are vanishing. When Milarch is questioned about his seemingly massive undertaking, his response is simple. “Impossible just takes longer.” Jim Robbins wrote David Milarch’s story, The Man Who Planted Trees, published by Penguin Random House in 2015. I’m going to give it a read.

Tree planters are busy in Canada, with 6500 of them planting 600 million trees each year. A record was set in 2022 by a twenty-two-year-old Canadian Antoine Moses, who planted 23,060 trees in a single twenty-four-hour period, breaking the previous record held by Kenny Chaplin in 2001 with 15,170 trees. Chaplin is still planting trees at the age of fifty-two. Kilty Elliott, a team member of Antoine Moses, planted 18,500 trees, the pair planting 41,560 trees in twenty-four hours, a feat that would take an average crew of fifteen to plant in a single day.

There is no greater wisdom than that of a Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”