January 23, 2019

There’s often quite a debate surrounding the age of trees, particularly those that have been around for a long time. Gauging the age of a tree isn’t an exact science, unfortunately, and different methods and factors affect the apparent age of a tree. With no way to confirm with absolute certainty, we can only estimate an age which often leads to intense debates.

The World’s Oldest Living Tree

Deep in Inyo County in California, lives the world's supposed oldest living tree. It is a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, a species that is known for its longevity.This particular pine has its exact location kept secret to protect it. This is due to many occasions in which well meaning researchers and scientists unwittingly causing the demise of their specimens of interest in their quest of knowledge.

Prometheus was one of the oldest trees in the world, estimated to be at least 4,900 years old when a geographer took to determining its age. Unfortunately, when he extracted a sample of its core, the entire tree was cut down. This was by no means his intention but it does highlight a particular folly that humans often fall into.

Currently, the oldest living tree is estimated to be approximately 5,069 years old. It was 5,062 years of age as of 2012 based on samples collected by Edmund Schulan in the late 1950s and since analysed in 2010.

The Debate

The age of this tree is still up for debate. Because of the secrecy around it, access to the tree is strict. The age is determined by core samples obtained and there’s a lot of assumptions when calculating the final age. One way is to count the growth rings on a core sample. Each year a new ring grows. However, due to harsh conditions, weather phenomena and freak events, the growth of these rings is not always consistent.

The debate is superficial. Rather than focus on semantics about its exact age or its title of ‘world’s oldest living tree’ we should instead look into the preservation of these trees and study it without harming it. The title is just that - a title.


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