This is a blog about the native conifers of the Pacific Northwest. It is a companion to the Northwest Conifers site. The blog will focus on timely and interesting details about our conifers, their connections to the rest of the environment, and our connection to them.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Oldest Trees

Treebeard is Fangorn, the guardian of the forest; he is the oldest of the Ents, the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth.
The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien

As noted in the Ancient Trees post, conifers have ancient origins. But conifers are not only ancient in the evolution of trees, they are also the oldest living trees, surviving for thousands of years. Several species of pine, cypress, and yew are among the oldest trees.
General Sherman - Largest Giant Sequoia
Yews Yews can live to be quite old. The oldest known yew is an English yew (taxus baccata) growing in Fortingall, a village in Scotland. Most of the large trunk of the tree is missing, so it's impossible to count tree rings to determine its age, which is estimated to be 1500 to 3000 years old. Redwood Most sources list the oldest redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) as over 2200 years old. However, scientists recently found a living redwood that they determined to be 2520 years old. The world's tallest tree is a 379-ft. redwood called "Hyperion," discovered in 2006 in Redwood National Park. The oldest and tallest redwoods are in California, but they also grow in a few groves in the southwest corner of Oregon. Giant Sequoia The oldest giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), called “The President", is 3200 years old. It is located in the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. A giant sequoia is also the largest tree in the world. It is General Sherman, located in Giant Forest Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. Coincidentally, the largest giant sequoia in Oregon is in downtown Forest Grove. It is one of many giant sequoias planted in Washington County in the mid 1800’s.

Patagonian cypress
A Patagonian cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides) living in Alerce Costero National Park, Chile is over 3600 years old. One of these trees may be the tallest tree in South America at 187 feet high. The Patagonian cypress grows between 1000 and 3000 feet on mountain slopes and lakeshores.
Bristlecone pine The oldest living trees determined by tree-ring count are bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva). Several are nearly 5000 years old. The oldest known bristlecone pine is over 5000 years old (5060 years old in 2012). It's located in the White Mountains of California south of Mono Lake. Another bristlecone, called “Methuselah,” growing in Inyo County, California, is 4844 years old.

Clonal Trees
Some lists of the oldest trees credit a Norway spruce (Picea abies) growing in Sweden as the oldest living tree. At a reported 9950 years old, this tree is nearly twice the age of the oldest bristlecone pine. But this spruce is a “clonal colony,” that is, a colony of clones of a single ancient ancestor. No single part of the colony is 9950 years old. And as clonal colonies go, this spruce is just a youngster. A clonal colony of quaking aspen in Utah is estimated to be 80,000 years old. This amazing colony covers 106 acres and has over 40,000 tree trunks. However, the oldest of the trees in the colony are only about 130 years old.   

Oregon’s Oldest Tree
The oldest tree in Oregon may be a limber pine (Pinus flexilis) located in the Wallowa Mountains in the northeast corner of the state. Tree rings in the outer 10 inches of the tree date back to the year 1141, but the remaining 20 inches is rotten. The tree is clearly much older than the rings indicate, probably well over 2000 years old. You can view a story on Oregon Field Guide about the tree here:

More Info
Oregon limber pine:

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