amazingly old trees
May 28, 2010 4:22 PM   Subscribe

what an awesome adventure it would be to travel the world and see each of these trees in person :)
posted by supermedusa at 4:33 PM on May 28, 2010

Wow! I had no idea one of these was near my town. I'll have to go see it.
posted by hot_monster at 4:33 PM on May 28, 2010

Northern California represent!

The little museum in my hometown had a redwood stump in it. It took up most of the rather large room and had markers saying things like "Birth of Jesus" at the appropriate rings. I found it hubristic, sacreligious, and thus endearingly human in its own way.

Last time I went there it was gone.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:34 PM on May 28, 2010

Thanks nickyskye. I now feel so young.
posted by Cranberry at 4:39 PM on May 28, 2010

Bristlecones rock! I enthusiastically recommend the Methuselah Grove to anyone passing through eastern California. They are amazingly contorted trees—twisted backward over themselves at every possible angle. Another awesome bristlecone fact: most of the wood in an older tree like Methuselah is dead tissue—the tree can survive by conducting water and nutrients along a very slim strip of bark that winds its way up the crown.

Wisdom from the bristlecone pine: don't fret too much about what you look like, make a quiet life for yourself in the high desert, and most of all be gnarly.
posted by cirripede at 4:47 PM on May 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

Highly recommended for anyone interested in this kind of stuff. Fantastic book.
posted by fire&wings at 4:57 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hah. I've hugged two of those 10.
posted by special-k at 4:57 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
posted by bwg at 5:09 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nice post. All I got is a 400 year old oak in Salem, NJ.
posted by fixedgear at 5:16 PM on May 28, 2010

Thanks for the post! I always like to hear about cool trees. I have to take issue with this, however:

There was an older tree
there named Prometheus but it had to be cut down in 1964, due to severe deterioration

This is completely untrue- it was cut down by a graduate student who had been taking core samples to determine the age of the trees. When his corer broke, he asked for, and got, permission from the Forest Service to cut down the tree. Bristlecone pines live such a long time because they don't deteriorate in the same way other trees do. The conditions are too harsh for many pathogens and pests to hang around. Bristlecone pines may look like 90 percent dead wood, but they're still alive. There'd be no reason to cut it down due to deterioration anyway- the trees are held up by senescent wood, and there's not much else around but rocks.

I've been out there, and all the researchers and the rangers know the story about the graduate student.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:28 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Graduate students: is there anything we don't ruin?
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:31 PM on May 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

Thanks for reminding me --- we're about 5 miles from the Angel Oak. A paltry 1500 years old, but still worth a picture tomorrow on the way home from vacation.
posted by scblackman at 5:32 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cool information, horribly formatted article. If you were unfamiliar with trees you'd have zero idea which illustration went with which block of text. The writing was pretty "see spot run," too.

But the trees...very cool.
posted by maxwelton at 5:34 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I thought something was amiss when they were discussing Prometheus, and I was wondering for a moment if they were talking about a different tree.

I do not use the word 'tragedy' lightly in this situation.

Imagine the second-to-last blue whale being harpooned and cut apart by a marine biology grad student working toward his PhD. Or the second-to-last elephant. Or the second-to-last gorilla. It's really that level of tragedy.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:39 PM on May 28, 2010

This Bristlecone Pine [self-link] in Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah [pdf] is estimated to be 1600 years old. The Ramparts Trail along the amphitheater rim is a spectacular hike that offers looks at many of these craggy, old bristlecones and well as a fabulous wildflower display [also a self-link] throughout most of the month of July.
posted by netbros at 5:42 PM on May 28, 2010

Re: the article about Prometheus...
Not to make light of what was a tragedy, I found this line to be amusing and rather, ahem, suggestive: "Needless to say they were excited, and at some point, their only coring tool broke."
I hate it when my tool breaks when I get too excited.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:48 PM on May 28, 2010


So, the oldest tree in the world is the Colbert? Who knew.
posted by localroger at 5:56 PM on May 28, 2010

Gotta agree with maxwelton - interesting topic, but I have no idea what went where photo-wise. I saw plenty of Alerce in Patagonia, where do I go to see the oldest one? Chile?

Says at the bottom he got "ALL" information from Wikipedia. Think I'll go look stuff up on there instead.
posted by jontyjago at 6:00 PM on May 28, 2010

you know what tree I love? The Baobab.

wiki -- "Some baobabs are reputed to be many thousands of years old, which is difficult to verify as the wood does not produce annual growth rings, though radiocarbon dating may be able to provide age data."

"The fruit is nutritious possibly having more vitamin C than oranges and exceeding the calcium content of cow's milk. Also known as "sour gourd" or "monkey's bread", the dry fruit pulp separated from seeds and fibers is eaten directly or mixed into porridge or milk."
posted by puny human at 6:17 PM on May 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Baobabs are evil. Just ask the Little Prince...
posted by jim in austin at 6:22 PM on May 28, 2010

How did they estimate this? By width only? Who is charged to measure and report the width of *every* tree in the world?
posted by unknowncommand at 6:50 PM on May 28, 2010

The original Wikipedia article is this one.
posted by gubo at 7:06 PM on May 28, 2010

This is cool, but the copy is seriously horrendous. Reads like a middle-school report.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 7:07 PM on May 28, 2010

My favorite baobab.
posted by mike3k at 7:35 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's fascinating how size != age. I've seen enormous tropical trees that were only a hundred years old, yet some of the oldest ones here don't even look that big.
posted by ropeladder at 7:53 PM on May 28, 2010

Yes to that link homunculus. The most underreported story of 2010 so for in my book. If we get that agreement right, 170 million acres of boreal forest will become old growth in 300 years.

posted by salishsea at 10:08 PM on May 28, 2010

It's funny seeing young-earth creationist types trying to bluff their way around 4,800-year-old trees:

A paper "disproving" dendrochronology [PDF]:
The great ages claimed for certain individual Bristlecone Pine trees (Pinus longaeva) and the Bristlecone Pine master-chronology, conflict with biblical earth history. The ages, however, are based on the assumption that the trees grew no more than one ring per year. Creationists have proposed that these supposed old Bristlecone Pines (BCPs), including the ones that make up the master-chronology, have grown more than one ring per year. If these trees did grow more than one ring per year, the conflict between the ages of these trees and the biblical record is resolved.
Conservapedia's entry on the subject
posted by Rhaomi at 10:44 PM on May 28, 2010

I don't like how these lists include trees that send out runners and include it under a "well, the whole organism kinda lived for x millennia" rule. It's gotta be one tree stump in my book.

But still an awesome FPP and just to prove I'm not a hater, I give you...

**The mighty Jarrah and Karri can still be found near where I live, but nothing beats the Sequoia, my favourite tree. There's a grove near Oakley Dam [also near where I live, in mountain biking country] in an arboretum. I excitedly checked them out one day and was left slightly deflated. I think they were only about 70 years old, so still have a ways to go!

**puny human, a boabab tree was used as a prison in my home state. I think we're talking about the same tree?

**4,800 years old? Pfft. Try 200 million years. Discovered in Eastern Australia in 1994.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:01 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

These would be the trees that Larry King planted as a boy scout, am I right Paul?

(laughter, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, faint whistling and howling)

Larry King.
posted by jeremy b at 11:28 PM on May 28, 2010

The world's oldest trees -- the oldest things alive on Earth, actually -- are the creosote rings in the Eastern Mojave, between Barstow and Landers. They're said to be nearly 12,000 years old. It's just a half-day drive down from the Bristlecones if you want to see them. Not the prettiest part of the desert but what the hell.
posted by kenlayne at 11:55 PM on May 28, 2010

#10 has a face- Anyone else see that?
posted by Locobot at 12:35 AM on May 29, 2010

posted by Harry at 3:06 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

While those are all cool trees, unfortunately a number of those cited ages are gross exaggerations or wild speculation, the kind that get recirculated enough that they become "facts". The Senator Cypress is very old, but it's nowhere near 3,000 years. The oldest verified baldcypress is 1622 years old, which is nothing to sneeze at. The "cypress" in Iran, the tree in Brazil, the Tiawanese tree? All guesses, which could be thousands of years off. The "100 Horses" chestnut is not the original tree, but continually regenerating root sprouts that form new trees (so genetically, it's extremely old). The Jomon Sugi has not been aged with certainty, but it's very likely that some of those Cryptomeria are over a thousand years old. The Fitzroya has been cross-dated to 3622, making it the second-oldest verified age, and pretty friggin' amazing.
While it's a neat post, these aren't really the "10 oldest trees in the world".
posted by Red Loop at 3:57 AM on May 29, 2010

#10 has a face- Anyone else see that?
posted by Locobot at 2:35 AM on May 29 [+] [!]

yup, i see it.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:48 AM on May 29, 2010

#10 has a face- Anyone else see that?
posted by Locobot at 2:35 AM on May 29

It's Thom Yorke and his droopy eye in tree form.
posted by joni. at 9:05 AM on May 29, 2010

From the article on the prison tree:

A photo taken in 1960 shows significant carvings into the trunk. New carvings are present as evidenced by the more recent photo.

With the erection of the fence the current vandalism will probably disappear over the next 50 years.

Right, because this fence is totally going to keep out those ne'er do well vandals.

And for the record, anyone caught carving on that tree ought to be locked inside it in my opinion.
posted by Jawn at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2010

Alice in Waterland
posted by robbyrobs at 12:22 PM on May 29, 2010

Near me, the Eastern White Cedars are extremely old but because they are the size of bonsai they don't get the attention of the more photographic big trees.
posted by saucysault at 6:59 AM on May 30, 2010

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