TSUKUBA, Ibaraki Prefecture--Eighteen saplings of a pine tree that miraculously survived the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami last year are growing at a research institute in Ibaraki Prefecture.
The saplings were nurtured from seeds taken from pine cones of the tree, the lone survivor of the Takata Matsubara pine forest on the coast of Rikuzentakata in southern Iwate Prefecture. However, the pine tree, which became a symbol of hope among survivors of the disaster that struck on March 11 last year, is nearing death because of salt left in the ground from the tsunami.
“We hope the saplings that have inherited the lineage of the solitary survivor will contribute to the recovery efforts (in the Tohoku region),” said a researcher at Sumitomo Forestry Co.’s Tsukuba Research Institute, where the saplings are growing.
The saplings, planted in pots, are currently 2 to 5 centimeters tall, and small buds are appearing among their needles.
Kentaro Nakamura, 45, and Remi Nakagawa, 37, two researchers of the institute’s wooden resources group, are raising the saplings in a room at a temperature of 23 degrees and humidity of 60 percent.
On the request of the Iwate branch of the Japan Landscape Contractors Association, Nakamura and Nakagawa joined a project to save the surviving pine tree.
On April 22, 2011, they inspected the tree and took pine cones to study at the research institute.
They found that many seeds had already fallen from the cones. When they dismantled the 30 cones, however, they found immature seeds deep inside, and retrieved 25.
Three seeds were immediately planted, but they did not sprout.
The remaining 22 seeds were kept in a refrigerator at a temperature of 4 degrees for about six months. After the seeds became mature enough, they were planted in pots from September to November.
Eighteen of the seeds sprouted.
In the coming months, the 18 saplings will be placed in the sun or in the cold air so that they can grow accustomed to the natural environment.
If the process goes smoothly, the saplings will be planted in the ground at the research institute in spring 2013. The researchers said the 18 seeds were not originally matured when they were taken from the cones, so their growth is slower than usual.
In addition to the 18 saplings, a company affiliated with Sumitomo Forestry has bred three different seeds using cloning techniques involving grafting. Those saplings are now being raised on farmland in Saitama city.
“It is necessary to raise the 18 saplings to heights of more than 50 centimeters in order to plant them on the site (of the former Takata Matsubara pine forest). It will take seven to eight years,” Nakamura said. “I think that people will propose to plant them there in the years when the recovery projects finally get on track. Until then, we will take special care of the saplings.”
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