Some of the Oldest Trees on Earth

By Doug Williams
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Some of the Oldest Trees on Earth

Doug Williams
 
 
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Trees are among some of the oldest living things on this planet. Many species are capable of outliving humans by thousands of years and grow to impressive heights that have captivated humans from time immemorial.

Environmental Science reports that the study of tree ring growth, or Dendrochronology, has a wide range of applications. Rings can be used to determine, among other things, the relative age of the tree, the atmospheric composition during different stages of the tree’s life, and how climate change has affected tree growth throughout the ages.

It can even be used to calibrate radiocarbon dating techniques! This important field of study has estimated the ages of some trees on the planet all the way back to around 9,500 years ago.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

Buddha statue under a holy bodhi tree in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Trees are important all over the world.
Buddha statue under a holy bodhi tree in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Trees are important all over the world.

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, is the oldest tree on earth with a known planting date. According to Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer, it was planted in the Mahameghavana Park in Anuradhapura in 288 BC by King Devanampiyatissa.

This sacred fig tree is considered to be the southern branch from the tree under which the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, and it is a major religious site for Buddhists worldwide. Construction within 500 meters of the tree was banned by the Sri Lankan government in April of 2014.

The Panke Baobab

An old Boab tree on the road to Limpopo Province in the north of South Africa is supported with ropes and poles.
An old Boab tree on the road to Limpopo Province in the north of South Africa is supported with ropes and poles.

The great baobab trees of South Africa’s Limpopo province are famous for their odd shapes and great ages. Inhabitat.com reports that one of these trees, the Sunland Baobab, reached such a great size that natives carved a pub into its trunk!

According to National Geographic, the Panke baobab tree was among the oldest of the famous baobab trees when it died in 2011. The tree was around 2,450 years old at the time of its death.

Scientists have become concerned that there is a trend of these trees dying from unnatural causes, as around 70% of the oldest baobabs seem to have died over a short period of time. However, some speculate that this could simply be a natural pattern for older trees.

The General Sherman Giant Sequoia

The largest tree in the world. Mr. General Sherman!
The largest tree in the world. Mr. General Sherman!

The humbling stature of the Sequoiadendron Giganteum is well known across the world. Images of rock climbers firing arrows up into the bark to secure lines for climbing or roads paved right through tunnels carved through their giant trunks are iconic, representing the awesome greatness of these trees.

USA Today reports that “General Sherman” in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in California is the largest tree in the world by volume. It stands at 275 Feet (84 meters) tall with a diameter of 36 feet at the base. The circumference of the trunk is over 102 feet.

While the tree is reportedly larger than most trees in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, its age is estimated to be around 2,000-2,500 years. This is fairly young by sequoia standards as some specimens can live for well over 3,000 years.

The tree was named in 1879 by James Wolverton, who had served under General William Tecumseh Sherman during the Civil War.

Methuselah

Named after a biblical figure who lived to be 969 years old, Livescience.com reports that this Great Basin bristlecone pine (pinus longaeva) from the White Mountains in California was the oldest known individual tree in the world until 2013 when an older specimen of p. longaeva, was found, also in California.

The tree was sampled by geochronologists Edmund Schulman and Tom Harlan and was estimated to be around 4,789 years old in 1957. It was considered the world’s oldest living non-clonal tree until a 5,068-year-old specimen was found around the same area in 2013.

Llangernyw Yew

Llangernyw Yew
Llangernyw Yew

An ancient yew tree in the village of Llangernyw, North Wales cannot be dated as the tree has been fragmented and its core lost. Still, it is around 10.75 m (or 35 feet) around at ground level and is associated with the local Legend of the Angelystor.

According to The BBC, Angelystor (“Evangelist” in Welsh) is a spirit that appears in the ancient church of Llangernyw, crying out the names of those parish members soon to meet with death.

The legend says that a Welsh tailor named Shôn ap Robert apparently mocked the idea of the spirit at a local bar on Halloween. After being dared to enter the church, he made his way to the entrance, where he heard a deep voice calling out names. The first name he heard was his, and he reportedly died some months later.

The yew tree is believed to be the oldest living thing in Wales.

Old Tjikko

View at Old Tjikko –  an old spruce tree on a mountain plateau. How long has it been here?
View at Old Tjikko –  an old spruce tree on a mountain plateau. How long has it been here?

Although this Norway Spruce is a whopping 9,560 years old, it is a clonal tree so has grown new branches, trunks, and roots over the course of its lifetime. Although its current trunk and branches are only a few hundred years old, its root system shows evidence of having been alive for close to 10,000 years.

The BBC reports that the age of the tree was confirmed by carbon dating of the root system, and although it cannot determine the exact year of germination, roots were found that date back to various time periods, the oldest of which was around 9,550 years ago. This places the sprout date for the original tree at around 7550 BCE.

 
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