Trees appeared on Earth millions of years ago and have been an integral part of the diversification of life on earth. Some trees grow to become the largest living organisms in the world such as the giant sequoia. Trees are also famed for their longevity with some species living for thousands of years. The oldest trees are believed to have germinated in the 3rd Millennium BCE, decades before the Great Pyramid of Khufu was built.
The oldest individual tree in the world is a 5,066 year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine. It is located in the White Mountains of California.
The Oldest Trees in the World
Great Basin Bristlecone Pine
The Great Basin bristlecone pine is a bristlecone pine species which is renowned for its longevity. Three of the oldest trees in the world are all Great Basin bristlecone pines. The Great Basin bristlecone pine is native to the western United States where it is found in the states of Nevada, Utah, and California. The oldest individual tree in the world (which is a Great Basin bristlecone pine) is located in the White Mountains of California and is estimated to be 5,066 years old. Scientists have hidden the identity of the tree for its protection. The second oldest tree is the “Methuselah,” another Great Basin bristlecone pine which is 4,848 years old. The Methuselah pine also grows on the slopes of the White Mountains in California, but its exact location is hidden from the public domain for the tree’s protection. Since its discovery in 1957, Methuselah remained the oldest known individual tree in the world until the older anonymous bristlecone pine was discovered in 2012. Prometheus was another ancient bristlecone pine and was aged between 4862 years and 5,000 years before it was cut down in 1964. The tree grew on the slopes of Wheeler Peak in Nevada, and the area where it stood was soon afterward converted into a national park to protect other Great Basin bristlecone pines. Based on the dating analysis done on the Prometheus, it is estimated that the pine germinated around 2880 BC.
The Patagonian Cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides) is the term given to tall, evergreen conifer trees which grow in the Valdivian temperate rain forests of South America. These trees grow to reach extreme heights and are the tallest trees in South America. Fully grown Patagonian cypress trees can grow as high as 230 feet, and some have a trunk diameter of 20 feet. In addition to their great size, Patagonian Cypress trees are some of the oldest trees in the world. One such tree named “Gran Abuelo” has an estimated age of 3,646 years and is the oldest tree in South America. However, due to the indiscriminate logging in the 19th century, the exact maximum age of the species has not yet been established.
The giant sequoia is a redwood tree native to California along the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The giant sequoia is the largest individual tree in the world and the largest living organism based on volume with the fully grown tree attaining a height of 279 feet and a maximum trunk diameter of 26 feet. The giant sequoia is also famed for its longevity with numerous trees exceeding 1,000 years. The oldest living specimen is known as the CBR26 which is estimated to be 3,266 years old.
How Is The Age Of Trees Measured?
To know the age of a tree, scientists employ dendrochronology which is the process of dating by use of tree rings. The trunks of most trees have rings known as growth rings which occur annually, and the counting of these rings provide scientists information about the tree’s estimated age.