Roughly 3500 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. In 2012, that very same cypress burned to the ground.
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.
We may have lost "The Senator," but there are still other ancient trees to marvel at. Here are some of the world’s oldest and most interesting trees that remain.
1. Old Tjikko // Sweden
The world’s oldest known living tree sprouted sometime during the last Ice Age, more than 9550 years ago. This 16-foot Norway spruce in the Dalarna province of Sweden may look more like the tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas, but don’t be fooled: its root system got started back when an ice bridge still connected the British Isles to Europe. Leif Kullman, the geologist who discovered the tree, named it after his dead dog.
2. Methuselah // California
Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree from California’s White Mountains, is thought to be almost 5000 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. 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
Llangernyw, a lush, 4000-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 a national natural monument. The 4000-year-old cypress took root right about the time ancient people in Central Asia were inventing wheels with spokes.
5. Fitzroya Cupressoides // Chile
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 200 years, but scientists have been tracking and protecting one specific tree, which is thought to be more than 3600 years old.
6. The Tree of One Hundred Horses // Sicily
The Tree of One Hundred Horses, an enormous chestnut near the Mount Etna volcano in Sicily, is thought to be between 2000 and 4000 years old. The inimitable name comes from an old legend where 100 drenched knights and their sopping steeds sought refuge from a thunderstorm beneath its 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.
A version of this story was originally published in 2012; it has been updated for 2021.