Oldest Tree In The World - Great Basin Bristlecone Pine
Common Names: Great Basin Bristlecone Pine
Scientific: Pinus longaeva
The oldest tree in the world is 4,842 years of age in 2011. It's a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) that goes by the name of Methuselah. It's located 3,000m (9,800 ft) above sea level in Methuselah Grove in the White Mountains of east California.
The Methuselah tree is named after the biblical figure Methuselah. Methuselah is the oldest living person mentioned in the bible and apparently lived to the grand old age of 969 years. The Methuselah tree has already out-lived the biblical Methuselah at least five times over.
Methuselah was first discovered in 1957 by Edmund Schulman and Tom Harlanand. When it was discovered it was a slightly more youthful 4,789 years of age .
By counting back the years scientists estimate that Methuselah first sprouted from its seed in 2832 BC, several hundred years before the Egyptian pyramids were build. Methuselah is currently the oldest seed-grown (non-clonal), intact tree anywhere in the world. There are trees with older root systems, but their trunks are younger re-shoots that grew after the original trunk had been lost.
Another older Pinus longaeva called Prometheus once grew in Wheeler Park in Nevada. It was more than 4,844 years old when it was cut down in 1964 (perhaps a mistake or carelessness) by a scientist examining tree rings for a research project on the last mini ice age.
Why do Great Basin Bristlecone Pines live to be the oldest trees on Earth?
The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine is one of the longest lived of all plant species, but what allows this species to survive for so long?
They grow in harsh, windy conditions high up on the mountain slopes in shallow, low-nutrient soil. The regions where they grow have an average annual rainfall of less than twelve inches. You'd think that these conditions would be the downfall of the trees growing in Methuselah Grove, however it's the very extremes they live in that provide them with an unique advantage to.
Nothing much else grows in these conditions (apart from a few other pines and some small shrubs) so there is little competition for water or nutrients. The cool mountain air also prevents rot-causing fungi from attacking them.
Because of the harsh conditions, many seeds will fail to germinate and as a result the trees end up having large spaces between them. This prevents the build up of pine needles on the ground which could provide fuel for wildfires.
Because access to resources in their environment is limited, they can keep each individual pine needle they produce for as long as 40 years before shedding them and growing new ones to replace them.
The wood of the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine is also extremely dense and full of resin which help to protect them against attack from boring insects and diseases.
Due to the environment they live in the growth of this pine is very slow, they may only add a single inch to their girth each century they live for. They are normally quite short and stunted, Methuselah itself is only 26 feet (8 metres) tall.
If it's a particularly bad year weather-wise they can become dormant and reawaken only when conditions improve.
If a large root dies due to disease or desiccation, the parts of the trunk and branches connected to the root also die leaving sections of the inner heartwood of the tree exposed. Many older trees in Methuselah Grove appear almost dead and some have just a single branch still alive and reproducing.
These pines are true masters of survival. The main reason why they live so long is that they're capable of holding on until the very end, even when faced with the most adverse of conditions.