6 of the Oldest Trees in the World

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Roughly 3,500 years ago—right about the time the Ancient Phoenicians were hitting their stride—a tiny cypress tree, no bigger than a fist, sprouted in the swamplands of Central Florida. 3,500 years later, on January 17 this year, that very same cypress burned to the ground.

Joe Burbank/MCT/Landov

Known as “The Senator,” this majestic, 118-foot tall tree was one of the oldest organisms in the world. Over the course of its long life, it survived hurricanes, disease and logging sprees, serving as a landmark for Seminole Indians, a tourist attraction for curious Victorians, and a spiritual epicenter for pilgrims hoping to bask, literally, in the shade of history.

Investigators don’t know exactly what caused the ancient tree to burn down two weeks ago, but arson and lightning are both possibilities. In tribute to The Senator, here is a list of some of the world’s oldest and most amazing remaining trees.

1. Old Tjikko (Sweden)

Karl Brodowsky/Wikimedia Commons

The world’s oldest known living tree sprouted sometime during the last Ice Age, roughly 9,550 years ago. This 16-foot spruce in the Dalarna province of Sweden may look more like a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, but don’t be fooled: this little guy’s root system got started back when the British Isles were still connected to Europe by an ice bridge. According to Wired, geologist Leif Kullman, who discovered the tree, named it after his dead dog.

2. Methuselah (California)

Oke/Wikimedia Commons

Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree from California’s White Mountains, is thought to be almost 5,000 years old—and the oldest non-clonal tree in the world. The exact location of the gnarled, twisted Methuselah is a Forest Service secret, for its protection (that might not be it above). In 1964, a slightly older tree by the name of Prometheus was accidentally felled by a scientist who didn’t realize the tree was as old as it was.

3. Llangernyw (North Wales)

Emgaol/Wikimedia Commons

Llangernyw, a lush, 4,000-year-old yew tree, was inducted into a list of 50 Great British Trees by the UK Tree Council in 2002, which, as far as tree honors are concerned, is a pretty big deal. Llangernyw was planted in what is now a North Wales churchyard way back when the Egyptian Pyramids were still considered a new development.

4. Zoroastrian Sarv (Iran)

The Zoroastrian Sarv, a tree in central Iran, is an Iranian National Monument. The 4,000-year-old cypress took root right about the time ancient people in Central Asia were inventing wheels with spokes, and over the course of its long life, witnessed the advent of modern human civilization.

5. Fitzroya Cupressoides (Chile)

© Galen Rowell/CORBIS

Fitzroya Cupressoides, a type of tall, skinny evergreen in the Andes Mountains, are some of the oldest trees in the world. Known commonly as the Alerce, many of these soaring evergreens have been logged in the last two hundred years, but scientists have been tracking and protecting one specific tree, which is thought to be more than 3,600 years old.

6. The Tree of One Hundred Horses (Sicily)

LuckyLisp/Wikimedia Commons

The Tree of One Hundred Horses, this enormous chestnut near the Mount Etna volcano in Sicily, is thought to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. Its inimitable name comes from an old legend where 100 drenched knights and their sopping steeds sought refuge from a thunderstorm beneath the tree’s protective branches. It’s almost believable: This truly massive tree holds the world record for girth, clocking in at 190 feet in circumference—nearly the length of a hockey rink.

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January 31, 2012 - 8:38am
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