Geek Trivia

The Oldest Known Trees Are All Members Of What Species?

Patagonia Cypress
Great Basin Bristlecone Pine
Western Juniper
Giant Sequoia
What Medicine Is Radically More Effective When Produced In Zero Gravity?

Answer: Great Basin Bristlecone Pine

When it comes to longevity, Great Basin bristlecone pines (and cousins within the bristlecone pine family) have long life down to an art form. Not only is the oldest identified non-clonal tree in the world a Great Basin bristlecone pine, but the second and third are too and their cousin the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine makes an appearance in spot number eleven.

So how old does one have to be to top the oldest-tree charts? The oldest confirmed Great Basin bristlecone pine is 5,065 years old, the second oldest is 4,847 years old, and the third oldest is 4,844 years old. Or, in regard to the last one, we should note that it was 4,844 years old before an overzealous graduate student cut it down to count the rings in 1964.

Now, to round out our trivia today, let’s focus on a term we used earlier: non-clonal tree. There are trees in the world even older than the bristlecone pines we’ve been talking about, but they possess a neat regenerative ability that makes them “clonal” trees. Our 5,065 year old bristlecone pine is the original tree, grown from the original seed, and it has been there in the exact same location since before the Egyptian Pyramids were built.

There are, however, species of trees that can effectively clone themselves. Their branches can dip back down into the soil, grow their own roots, and even if the “mother” tree dies the branches can become new trees (wide-ranging roots can also send up new shoots). Essentially, it is still one organism and has the exact same DNA as the original tree, but these clonal trees get to cheat a little in the game of longevity because, in theory, they could keep this practice up forever and barring an environmental disaster in the area, the tree could plant and replant itself indefinitely.

The oldest known example of such a tree is a Quaking Aspen located in Fishlake National Forest, Utah in the United States. Known as Pando (Latin for “I spread”), it is estimated to be at least 80,000 years old and is considered one of the oldest known living organisms on our planet. Pando covers an area of 43 hectares (106 acres), weighs nearly 6,000 tonnes (13,000,000 pounds), and has over 40,000 stems (trunks).

Image courtesy of Oke.