The Clone and the Drone

By   April 15, 2015

King CloneIt may not have the majesty of a sequoia or the obvious age of a Bristlecone pine but you are looking at one of the oldest organisms on the planet. This ring of shrubs, certainly one of the few to bear a name, is known as King Clone and is the largest known clonal ring of the creosote bush (Larrea tridentata). Researchers working in the 70s calculated the rate of growth of the ring at 0.7 mm per year and extrapolated from its size and from dating wood in its center, that this ring of genetically identical shrubs, a subdivided individual, is about 11,700 years old. King Clone was old at the dawn of agriculture. It has continued its slow spread through the entirety of the rise of our civilization. Year in, year out, through drought and freeze and windstorm, it has persisted. King Clone is a marvelously successful Earthling.

In the center of the ring you see a shadow, cast by the drone from which I took this picture. Frustrated by my inability to capture an image of this creature I enjoy visiting, I launched a device that was unthinkable ten years ago- an inexpensive remotely piloted flying camera. We humans hurtle along, spreading, with our machines, across the globe and out into the solar system and beyond, breathless with our own inventiveness.

King Clone is an excellent Earthling, witness to epic changes in a harsh and temperamental part of the world. This is an organism whose mettle has been tested time and again. I wonder about the drone makers (and pilots), all busy heads and hands. Do we possess the flexibility and grit that have seen King Clone through the ages, long enough to have its picture taken by a flying camera?