Trees not only helps humankind to survive but are also living history. Among these witnesses to this era are the ancient olive tree at Vouves, Crete, which watched the rise and fall of empires, and Methuselah, a twisted 4,800-year-old California bristlecone pine whose seeds sprouted before the Egyptian pyramids were built. Now scientists have found that the Patagonia cypress in Chile, known as "great grandfather" or Alerce Milenario, is even older.
A recent analysis of the tree ring segment found that this giant is estimated to be 5484 years old and likely won the oldest living tree award.Deep in the Chilean forest, about 500 miles south of Santiago, a cypress tree stands amidst dense leaves, sheltered from the weather, in a ravine. The magnificent tree belongs to the species Fitzroya cupressoides and is 13 feet in diameter and 92 feet tall. Moss grows on its surface and smaller trees have nested in the cracks.
"This is a survivor, there is no other who has had the opportunity to live that long," said Antonio Lara of the Australian University and the Chilean Center for Climatology and Resilience. Together with her colleague Jonathan Baricic from the Paris Laboratory for Climate and Environmental Sciences, she took a sample from the core (inner wood) of the tree with a thin drill so as not to harm the ancient creature.
2,400 growth rings where counted in the core by a team of researchers. However, they could not even reach the middle of the huge tree. So they turned to a computer model to complete the ring count. Comparing it to other Alers trees and using their knowledge of the variables that affect tree growth, they estimated with 80 percent confidence that the great-grandfather is over 5,000 years old. This makes him older than Methuselah, the previous record holder. This discovery is exciting because ancient trees hold many "records" of climate change over the millennia.
"Old trees have genes and a special history, because they are symbols of resistance and adaptation." They are nature's best athletes," explains Baricivic. "As these trees disappear, so does an important key to how life adapts to changes on the planet." Publishing their findings and protecting the tree from trophy-seeking vandals are the next steps. To prevent tree roots from being trampled, a wooden platform has already been built. Of course, at his age, the great-grandfather deserved respect. While it appears to be taking the title of "oldest living tree," many others in the world, including even older "clone" trees, need to be preserved lest their stored secrets be lost forever.