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Olympic High students learn benefits of trees as they plant 3 ‘little giants’

(L-R) Heartwood Tree employees Jesse Zastrow, Matthew Bothe and Santigie "Tig" Kavia explain how to plant one of the three cloned Sequoia redwoods to Olympic High students on Friday, March 18, 2016. Biology teacher Paul Greenleaf's class at Olympic has been learning about cloning genetics, plant hormones and tree conservation. To celebrate Arbor Day on Friday, three Sequoia cloned trees one from the famous Fieldbrook and Ryan stumps and a stump from a tree that had survived negative temperatures were planted.
(L-R) Heartwood Tree employees Jesse Zastrow, Matthew Bothe and Santigie "Tig" Kavia explain how to plant one of the three cloned Sequoia redwoods to Olympic High students on Friday, March 18, 2016. Biology teacher Paul Greenleaf's class at Olympic has been learning about cloning genetics, plant hormones and tree conservation. To celebrate Arbor Day on Friday, three Sequoia cloned trees one from the famous Fieldbrook and Ryan stumps and a stump from a tree that had survived negative temperatures were planted. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Paul Greenleaf, an Olympic High biology teacher, held up a spindly, needled sapling Friday and to show his students how massive the stump is that produced it, he had to use a tape measure.

He gave the tip of the tape to Santigie “Tig” Kabia, a plant health care manager for Heartwood Tree Care of Charlotte, and told him to walk off the distance amid a grove of crepe myrtles in front of the school. Kabia walked off about 6 feet, pardoning himself as he walked through a wall of students – and kept walking. He didn’t stop until he’d walked off 32 feet.

The sapling Greenleaf called “the Little Giant” is no uncommon tree. It is a cloned sequoia, a Redwood, the kind you see in photographs of coastal California that make grown people look miniature. It comes from a tree stump more ancient than the Egyptian pyramids.

Friday, to celebrate Arbor Day, he and three Heartwood technicians planted three fast-growing sequoia clones 20 feet apart donated by the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a Michigan nonprofit working to find and save the world’s largest and oldest trees.

Greenleaf told his students about trees planted at his high school.

“I remember when they didn’t even have shade because they were twigs,” he said. “These are not too exciting today ... but 10, 15, 20 years from now you’re going to appreciate it. It’s going to be fun.”

To give it perspective, he said a nearby cell tower that looks like a tree is 175 feet tall. “These trees can reach this height in the next 100 years if the conditions are right,” Greenleaf said.

He got the idea of planting the redwoods in 2011 after reading a story about Archangel’s mission. In October, he emailed its founder, David Milarch, about the possibility of getting a donation.

Two weeks later, Milarch emailed back saying they’d send Olympic a donation.

“How about three?” Greenleaf responded.

They sent three, each spindly and packed in good dirt. Since the dirt at Olympic is largely dense, red clay, Heartwood, Rainbow Tree Science and Trees Charlotte partnered to take soil tests and “amend” the school’s soil to accept the trees.

After they’re established, they could grow 10 feet a year, Kabia said.

Fifty of the same cloned saplings are being planted in Cornwall, England, “in anticipation of a giant forest for centuries to come,” Greenleaf said.

Melissa Deriggi, a 10th-grader, said she’d only seen photos of the redwoods. She said she looked forward to returning in 30 years to see how large they’d grown. “It’ll be fun to tell my family ‘I helped plant these trees.’ 

Connor Thomas, another 10th-grader, said he’ll bring his family back one day.

“We’ll have a picnic in the shade of a redwood, at my old high school,” Connor said. “How cool is that?”

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