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Giving Rebirth to the Henderson Sycamore


A cloned sycamore from Henderson Lawn John Seiler (L) and Eric Wiseman check on the Henderson sycamore clone planted outside Cheatham Hall.

Nov. 15, 2011 – Many mourned when the ancient sycamore on Henderson lawn at Virginia Tech had to be cut down last year. Standing prominently at the southern entrance of campus, the tree had slowly succumbed from a poor growing environment, root damage from underground utility work in the 1980s, fungal disease, and old age. The exact age of the tree is unknown, but it had been on campus since Virginia Tech’s establishment in 1872.

Now, however, it seems the tree has been “reborn.” John Seiler, Alumni Distinguished Professor, and several of his colleagues in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation took over 300 cuttings from the tree before it was removed. Using the cuttings, six “clones” were successfully rooted and two have survived to a plantable size.

The tree had been a strong icon of both the university and the town of Blacksburg. “It’s a really important tree to the town,” said Seiler. “There was a big sense of loss in the community. We wanted people to feel better after the first one was cut down.”

Despite the widespread use of the cloning process in forestry research, Seiler and his colleagues initially experienced a few problems. “We didn’t have a very good success. It varies from species to species.” Eric Wiseman, associate professor of urban forestry, added, “The time of the year made things more difficult.” It took three iterations before a clone was successfully grown.

Plans have already been made for the two thriving clones. One was planted in front of Cheatham Hall in honor of spring 2011 graduation. The other is expected to return to Henderson lawn once construction of the new Center for the Arts is complete. “A lot of people identified with the tree,” said Wiseman. He and Seiler hope that the cloning of the old sycamore will help perpetuate its memory for future generations of students.

    CNRE Newsmagazine Fall 2011 Cover

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