To get the potential stock, the cuttings were taken from the new growth on top. Travis Woodson of Big O Tree and Lawn Services raised up into the tree in a truck-mounted, hydraulic-raised bucket and trimmed the new growth from the treetop. Once he had accumulated a bunch of cuttings, he lowered the bucket and handed them to Bryars and Dowell, who marked down the location on the tree from which the cuttings were taken.
This is the first batch of three cuttings from the tree, to be taken at about monthly intervals. These are softwood cuttings and the later cuttings will be harder. Each collection will involve about 100 cuttings.
“This is kind of an experiment,” Bryars said. “We take the different stages of growth, do side-by-side comparisons and we hope for good success rates.”
The tree – named after William A. Pratt, the first superintendent of buildings and grounds – has become an important landmark on Grounds. University landscape architect Mary Hughes views the cuttings as a way of preserving that history.
“The Pratt ginkgo is one of our most historic trees,” Hughes said. “We believe it was planted [by Pratt] in the 1860s and it is certainly a spectacular specimen. The leaves turn gold much later than other ginkgo trees in the area, and then the leaves drop all at once, creating a gold carpet on the ground. It has become one of the rituals of fall and photographers set up days in advance to capture the event. Creating a clone of the tree will allow us to plant a replacement when the inevitable day comes that we lose the parent tree. It is a way of preserving this piece of our landscape heritage.”
Pratt was a well-known Richmond civil engineer who moved to Charlottesville in 1856. He developed a plan for the improvement of the Grounds and spent 1857 through 1859 constructing and renovating many buildings. In 1858, the Board of Visitors named him the University’s first superintendent of buildings and grounds. He is credited with planting many of the older maple and ash trees on the Lawn.