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Taking the long view
There are colonies of clonal trees that have lived for tens of thousands of years, but there’s something majestic about a single tree able to stand on its own for millennia. These ancient trees have bore witness to the rise and fall of civilizations, survived changing climates, and even persevered through the fervent development of human industry. They are a testament to the long view that Mother Nature takes in tending the Earth. With that in mind, consider the world’s 10 oldest living trees.
At 4,841 years old, this ancient bristlecone pine is the oldest known non-clonal organism on Earth. Located in the White Mountains of California, in Inyo National Forest, Methuselah’s exact location is kept a close secret in order to protect it from the public. (An older specimen named Prometheus, which was about 4,900 years old, was cut down by a researcher in 1964 with the U.S. Forest Service’s permission.) Today you can visit the grove where Methuselah hides, but you’ll have to guess at which tree it is. Could this one be it?
Sarv-e Abarqu, also called the “Zoroastrian Sarv,” is a cypress tree in Yazd province, Iran. The tree is estimated to be at least 4,000 years old and, having lived through the dawn of human civilization not far away, it is considered an Iranian national monument. Many have noted that Sarv-e Abarqu is most likely the oldest living thing in Asia.
This incredible yew resides in a small churchyard of St. Dygain’s Church in Llangernyw village, north Wales. About 4,000 years old, the Llangernyw Yew was planted sometime in the prehistoric Bronze Age — and it’s still growing! In 2002, in celebration of the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the tree was designated as one of 50 Great British trees by the Tree Council.
The Alerce is a common name for Fitzroya cupressoides, a towering tree species native to the Andes mountains. There’s almost no telling how old these trees can get, since most of the larger specimens were heavily logged in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many botanists believe they are the second-longest living trees on Earth aside from the bristlecone pine of North America. To date, the oldest known living specimen is 3,640 years old.
The Senator, located in Florida, is the largest bald cypress tree in the United States, and it is widely considered the oldest of its species known to exist. It is likely the largest U.S. tree of any species east of the Mississippi River. Estimated to be around 3,500 years old, the Senator was used as a landmark for the Seminole indians and other native tribes. The Senator’s size is particularly impressive because it has endured many hurricanes, including one in 1925 which reduced its height by 40 feet.
The tree gets its name from from Sen. M.O. Overstreet, who donated the tree and surrounding land in 1927.
Patriarca da Floresta
This tree, an example of the species Cariniana legalis named Patriarca da Floresta in Brazil, is estimated to be about 3,000 years old, making it the oldest non-conifer in Brazil. The tree is believed to be sacred, but its species is widely threatened due to forest clearing in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.
Olive Tree of Vouves
This ancient olive tree is located on the Greek island of Crete and is one of seven olive trees in the Mediterranean believed to be at least 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Although its exact age cannot be verified, the Olive Tree of Vouves might be the oldest among them, estimated at over 3,000 years old. It still produces olives, and they are highly prized. Olive trees are hardy and drought-, disease- and fire-resistant — part of the reason for their longevity and their widespread use in the region.
Jōmon Sugi, located in Yakushima, Japan, is the oldest and largest cryptomeria tree on the island, and is one of many reasons why the island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tree dates to at least 2,000 years old, but some experts believe it could be older than 5,000 years old. Under that theory, it’s possible that Jōmon Sugi is the oldest tree in the world — even older than Methuselah. Regardless of the numbers, it’s a tree that deserves mention here.
Chestnut Tree of One Hundred Horses
This tree, located on Mount Etna in Sicily, is the largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world. Believed to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old, this tree’s age is particularly impressive because Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The tree sits only 5 miles from Etna’s crater. The tree’s name originated from a legend in which a company of 100 knights were caught in a severe thunderstorm. According to the legend, all of them were able to take shelter under the massive tree. It is listed by Guinness World Records as having the “greatest tree girth ever,” at 190 feet in circumference.
Believed to be around 2,500 years old, General Sherman is the mightiest giant sequoia still standing. The volume of its trunk alone makes it the largest non-clonal tree by volume in the world, even though its largest branch broke off in 2006, smashing part of its enclosing fence and cratering the pavement of the surrounding walkway. Perhaps this was a sign that General Sherman could not be caged in? Sherman can be found in Sequoia National Park in California, where five of the 10 largest trees in the world exist.