Meet the Tree Elders

An ancient 4,800-year-old Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, the Methuselah Tree grows high in the White Mountains of eastern California. PHOTO: AGrinberg Creative Commons

An ancient 4,800-year-old Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, the Methuselah Tree grows high in the White Mountains of eastern California. PHOTO: AGrinberg Creative Commons

Did you know that the exact location of the world’s second oldest tree is a Forest Service secret? Or that a woman was charged with setting a fire that burnt down one of the oldest tree organisms? Well, “The Senator” must have sprung up roughly 3,500 years ago — a tiny cypress tree, no bigger than a fist, in the swamplands of Central Florida. In 2012, that very same cypress burned to the ground. The majestic 118-foot tall tree was one of the oldest organisms in the world. Over the course of its long life, it survived hurricanes, disease and logging sprees, serving as a tourist attraction and a spiritual epicenter for pilgrims hoping to bask, literally, in the shade of history.

A 4,800-year-old Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, the Methuselah Tree grows high in the White Mountains of eastern California. Named, obviously, after the Biblical figure that lived for 969 years, the Methuselah Tree grows in the Methuselah Grove, which is in Inyo National Forest’s “Forest of Ancients,” where it is surrounded by other ancient trees. The exact location of the tree, though, is kept secret to protect it against vandalism. Atlas Obscura rounds up more tree elders from across the world:

Pando is a forest of Quaking Aspens growing near Fish Lake in Utah. Pando, whose name is Latin for “I spread,” is a clonal colony. This means that all the trees in the forest are genetically identical, and are believed to have one combined root system. Pando covers more than 106 acres, and is estimated to weigh in the region of 5,900 tons. More than 40,000 trunks (which look like individual trees) make up the forest, and the roots are believed to be at least 80,000 years old. Yes, 80,000. That’s not a typo. In fact, some scientists challenge this dating, and are trying to confirm their own estimates of Pando’s age, which would push it back to approximately 1,000,000 years old. One million years old.
For perspective’s sake, the Great Pyramid of Giza was begun around 4,500 years ago. The city of Sumer was founded 7,000 years ago. Neanderthals lived and walked alongside Homo Sapiens 250,000 years ago. Pando could be four times older than the first-known Neanderthal fossils.

In the western United States, it is believed that there are very few non-clonal Quaking Aspens, as around 10,000 years ago there was a climactic shift in the region, which changed the soil conditions, making saplings less able to survive, and also making it more difficult for adult trees to flower.

One million years is an incredible timespan for a single organism to be alive. And there are other clonal forests around the world whose own ages are exceptionally long, although certainly not as old as Pando. King Clone, for instance, is a creosote ring in the Mojave Desert, and is 11,700 years old; and there is a colony of Box Huckleberry in Pennsylvania which is the oldest woody plant east of the Rocky Mountains, and is around 8,000 years old.

The oldest currently known and confirmed tree in the United States is unnamed, but is a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, in the White Mountains of California — it’s 5,064 years old. The next oldest is the venerable Methuselah, aged 4,846. Methuselah is also a Great Basin Bristlecone. The tree lives in Inyo County, California. Then come the Sequoias, like the President and General Sherman, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Read more here.

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