The Oldest Tree in the World

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.