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Cloning Old Oaks in Poland

Cloning oaks
Prof. Paweł Chmielarz with micropropagated oaks © Tomasz Siuda

Scientists in Poland have successfully micropropagated 500- to 800-year-old oaks, and two of the saplings were planted in April. Professor Paweł Chmielarz of the Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (http://www.idpan.poznan.pl/) has been leading the project, which began five years ago. He reports that on April 12, 2019 a 2-meter-tall clone of Oak Rus (800 years old), obtained using in-vitro culture, was planted in the garden at Raczyński Palace in Rogain, close to the original tree. A clone of the Wybicki Oak (c. 400 years old) was planted two weeks later at the Museum of the National Anthem in Będomin.

Below is a translation of an article published in Polish on the portal Nowe Pomorze (New Pomerania). You can also see a video of the tree planting ceremony in Będomin—complete with participants in historic costumes—here. No translation available for the narration, so you may need to, ahem, polish up your Polish.


An unusual tree has been planted at the Museum of the National Anthem in Będomin, Poland, thanks to the work of scientists and the support of Lasy Państwowe (State Forests [1] ). A Quercus robur sapling, propagated in vitro from a 440-year-old oak, now grows close to its genetic ancestor. 

Wibicki oak
The Wybicki Oak at Będomin, Poland © Adam Kiedrowski

“The Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Kórnik, which implements the program of creating the gene base of the most valuable trees in Poland and reproducing them in vitro, proposed that we participate in a scientific project,” said Przemysław Rey, curator of the National Anthem Museum in Będomin. “Our 440-year-old oak Wybicki Oak, one of the few ancient oaks in Poland, was cloned—and  the 3-year-old sapling, although supposedly a new plant, is genetically 440 years old,” adds the curator.

Planting at Bedomin
Planting the cloned Wybicki Oak at Bedomin © Adam Kiedrowski

Wybicki's Oak grew already in times when the land in Będomin belonged to the Gleissen-Deręgowskich family. We can assume that when the tree became the property of Wybicki family, the future creator of the Polish national anthem, Józef Wybicki, then a child, would have climbed the branches of the c. 150-year-old oak. Today, this venerable natural monument is kept alive by struts and rigging that support its heavy branches. And more frequent storms seriously threaten its survival.

Pawel Chmielarz
Prof. Paweł Chmielarz © Adam Kiedrowski

“There is a need to preserve old oaks, which despite appearances are dying before our eyes,” said Prof. Paweł Chmielarz of the Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Kórnik. Prof. Chmielarz has for several years been carrying out research on the propagation of monumental trees. “I was asked about the possibility of propagating them, and we started the first research 10 years ago, mainly out of scientific curiosity. For example, attempts to propagate material from the Bartek Oak proved to be ineffective,” said Prof. Chmielarz.

Financial support for the pilot program was provided by the General Directorate of State Forests. This allowed extending the scope and soon scientists attempted to propagate 20 Polish monumental oaks. “After almost 5 years of efforts, two cloned oaks have been obtained and planted: Oak Rus in the Palace in Rogalin and Wybicki Oak in the Museum of the National Anthem in Będomin,” said Prof. Chmielarz.

Rogalin oak
800-year-old oak and its in-vitro clone, ready to be planted at Rogalin

The sapling of the 440-year-old Wybicki Oak was created by collecting dormant buds from under the bark of meter-long, woody shoots, then growing green leaf buds from them, and then obtaining material for rooting under sterile laboratory conditions. “The cost of research means that the Wybicki sapling is equivalent to about two new Mercedes!” said Museum Director Przemysław Rey.

[1] Polish governmental organization that manages state-owned Polish forests on behalf of the Polish State Treasury