A news item about the death of one of the oldest trees in the world came across my desk this afternoon, prompting a bit of surfing through the links. I find knowing that there are living things on this planet as old or older than human civilization strangely comforting, but it’s saddening to read about it when they finally fall.
The obituary that began my ramble through the virtual ancient forest was a Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) affectionately known as The Senator. Obviously whoever chose that moniker lived at a time when such a label was closer to a compliment than the epithet it has become today.
The Senator lived in a place called Big Tree Park in the state of Florida, and is thought to have met it’s demise at the hands of Mother Nature, rather than those of man. A lightening strike several days ago is thought to have sparked a fire inside the massive tree’s trunk, beyond the reach of fire fighters.
The Senator was estimated to be 3,500 years old, having sprouted around the time the first Egyptian pyramids are believed to have been constructed. Another ancient tree remains in Big Tree Park; a 2,000 year old cypress named, Lady Liberty.
As impressive as those ages are, these two trees are relatively young compared to a few other notables around the globe. For instance, in the Yazd province of Iran lives a tree, called Sarv-e Abarqu (Cypress of Abarqu), or Zoroastrian Sarv, thought to be at least 4,000 years old. This ancient tree witnessed the earliest of all known human civilizations.
The Zoroastrian Sarv is considered an Iranian national treasure, and many speculate that it is the oldest living thing in all of Asia. Having managed to survive forty centuries, one has to wonder how many more years this venerable old tree has left, given political tensions in the region and the predisposition of certain governments to go to war.
Another ancient tree, nearly as old as Sarv-e Abarqu, resides in a small churchyard in a village in northern Wales. The Llangernyw Yew was planted during the prehistoric Bronze Age and is still growing today. In 2002 it was designated one the fifty oldest trees in Great Britain, but that honor seems a bit minor, considering that the Llangernyw Yew is one of the ten oldest trees on Earth.
The Jōmon Sugi, a Cryptomeria in Yakushima, Japan, is the oldest and largest of its species on the island. This tree is known to be at least 2,000 years old, but some experts believe it could be over 5,000 years old; more ancient than the oldest known tree in the world: Methuselah.
At 4,841 years old, a bristlecone pine called Methuselah is the oldest known non-clonal organism on Earth. Methuselah lives in a grove of trees located in the Inyo National Forest of California. In 1964, an even older tree named Prometheus, which was over 5,000 years old, was cut down by an obviously misguided graduate student. Methuselah’s exact location and identity is kept secret for its protection, but you can visit the grove where it lives and try to guess which tree it is.