Imagine having been alive for centuries, since before the time the ancient Babylonians started to measure time as we understand it today. Not only having been alive then, but carrying on through the developments of the Greek and Roman empires, the births of religions like Christianity and Islam, and right up to the present day, still bearing witness.
There are such living things on Earth, the oldest of which is aptly named Methuselah, a 4,800-year-old Great Basin Bristlecone pine, located in Methuselah alley, Nevada. Yes, this is officially the oldest tree in the world. There was an older tree there named Prometheus, but it was cut down in 1964 by a researcher in controversial circumstances. This species of tree is thought to be the longest lived of all, but there are many other ancient varieties.
The Sarv-e-Abarkooh is a 4,000-year-old Cypress tree located at Abarkooh in Iran. Also known as the ‘Zoroastrian Sarv’, this tree holds a special place in the hearts of all Iranians, with strong religious connotations.
3. Llangernyw Yew
Another truly ancient example of living tree is the Llangernyw Yew, in Wales. Yew trees are common in cemeteries and known for their longevity, but this is an extreme example.
Another tree which is known to have been around for 35 million years, due to fossilised remains – the oldest today being a youthful 3,600 years of age – is the Patagonian Cypress, also known as the ‘Alerce’. So valuable was the wood of this tree to the Chilean locals that they used roof shingles made from it as money.
Image: Ashley Schmidt
5. The Senator
The Bald Cypress known as the ‘Senator’, from Florida in the USA, is estimated to be 3,400-3,500 years old, the 5th oldest tree in the world! A 2006 survey by the Native Tree Society measured the volume at well over 5,100 cubic feet, making it the largest of its kind in the US, as well as the largest tree of any species east of the Mississippi River.
Outside the city of Logan, Utah, USA, you will find The ‘Jardine Juniper’, again the oldest – at 3,200 years – of its kind anywhere in the world (see also top most photo). Perhaps one of the most impressive of long-lived tree species is the Giant Sequoia, native to California. These gigantic trees are commonly found to be several thousand years old. Indeed, the ‘Chicago Stump’, felled in 1893 for the World’s Fair, was established by tree-ring count as being 3,200 years old.
Yet another ancient South American resident is the ‘Patriarca de Floresta’ tree of Brazil. One of the biggest trees in the Atlantic Forest, this one is thought to be at least 3000 years old, almost certainly the oldest deciduous tree on the continent.
It is a genuine shame that the ‘Alishan Sacred Tree’ of Taiwan, also believed to have been 3,000 years old, collapsed on July 1, 1997 following heavy rainstorms. These are slow-growing but long-lived and ultimately very large conifers 55–60mtrs in height, with a trunk up to 7m in diameter. This particular one was very special to the local Buddhists.
8. Old Chestnut
The oldest known Chestnut tree in the world – known as the “Tree of 100 Horses” – can be found on the Linguaglossa road, in San D’Alfio, on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. It is indisputably the largest tree of its kind to be found anywhere on the planet, and thought to be somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 years old.
9. General Sherman
One of the youngest of these ancient trees is the ‘General Sherman’, a Giant Sequoia that stands 275ft tall and measures 102ft in circumference at the base. It can be found in the Sequoia National Park. As of 2002, the trunk volume was measured at about 1487 cubic meters, and has been identified as the largest tree in the world by wood-volume. It is believed to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old.
Finally we come to the real youngster of the group, though to be honest that cannot be stated with certainty because the centre of the trunk is too rotten to get a true tree-ring picture. The Jhomon Sugi tree, of Yakushima in Japan, could be as young as 2,170 years or as old as 7,200, which would make it the oldest by far. With a girth of 16.4m, it has certainly been around for a very long time.
We cannot know how many more millennia may pass before these incredible organisms finally reach the end of their lives, but it helps to underline how unimportant we humans really are in the overall scheme of things. In the sense of geological time, we have only just drawn our first breath. Thousands of years to live your life. Wouldn’t that be something?