The Oldest Tree in the World

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Image: James Neeley

As the harsh wind whistles around the ancient, branched giants, visitors can’t help experience a sense of awe, faced with the trees’ magnificence. This humbling feeling is well justified: these trees are older than any other single living organism known to man. And, as the visitors come and go, the wise old trees simply stand, impassive, as if gently guarding the world.

In this beautiful night shot, a bristlecone tree trunk sits against a backdrop of star trails in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in eastern California’s White Mountains. This particular trunk can be found in the park’s Methuselah Grove, which was named after the oldest of its inhabitants, “Methuselah” (in turn named after the oldest person in the Bible) – an unmarked bristlecone pine that is, by some accounts, 4,844 years old! Yup, that’s right, we didn’t add an extra digit at the end by mistake; the tree really is just 156 years short of living for five millennia, making it 1,000 years older than any other tree on Earth!


Image: Simon Christen

With the concentric star trails crowning this bristlecone pine, the image looks almost out of this world.

Unless otherwise noted, most of the incredible photos seen here were taken in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. The Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) grows at a high elevation of between 9,800 and 11,000 feet (3,000 and 3,400 m) and is protected within the White Mountains by the Inyo National Forest. To guard these ancient specimens further – from trophy seekers, vandals and the overly curious – the trees are unmarked, meaning that only experts and those who are really clued-in know where the oldest can be found.

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Image: Steve Dunleavy

This bristlecone pine trunk in California’s Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest shows us how gnarled and twisted these old trees can become. If you want to go out and find it for yourself, this beautiful tree was snapped at Schulman Grove. The grove itself is named after one Dr. Edward Schulman, who was the first to discover the native tree’s incredible longevity.

There are only three species of bristlecone pine in the world, and they all grow in the western United States: the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva, seen in most of these images), which grows in Utah, Nevada and parts of California; the Rocky Mountains bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata), which grows in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona; and the Californian Foxtail Pine (Pinus balfouriana), which can also be found in California.

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