A tree first sprouted more than 3,000 years before the birth of Christ. This could be the oldest tree in the world, a majestic cypress tree nicknamed ‘Great-grandfather’. The analyses are the result of both direct measurements and approximations and assumptions made taking into account the geography and botany of the place. Alerce Milenario is its name in the Hispanic language, has survived all these years thanks to its location, at the base of a wet ravine, and could help researchers understand the effects of climate change on flora around the world. Its incredible record has not yet been officially published, but researchers claim that it is at least 600 years older than the oldest tree.
Researchers have dubbed it ‘Great-grandfather’ and it would be the oldest tree in the world. This magnificent cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides) is 5,848 years old and stands in a remote tropical forest in southern Chile, in Patagonia.
This incredible plant organism soars 28 metres into the air, and the diameter of its trunk is an impressive 4 metres. Its appearance, however, is battered, tried and gnarled. In addition, it houses within itself, and around it, many plant species (even other trees) that have grown in its recesses.
The good fortune of this tree was definitely its location. In fact, it is located 800 kilometres from Santiago de Chile, in the Los Rios region. Moreover, it is located within a humid crevasse, which has protected it over the years from both fires and loggers, who have taken large quantities in the past.
The location of this tree is known to everyone, since it has been in a park that has been frequented for decades. For this, a large number of forest rangers have been hired, as tourists used to take pieces of its bark as souvenirs.
Until the discovery of the age of this tree, the oldest tree in the world was considered ‘Methuselah’, a 4,854-year-old bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) living in the White Mountains in eastern California.
Antonio Lara, lecturer at the Faculty of Forestry and Natural Resources at the Universidad Austral in Valdivia and researcher at the Chilean Centre for Climate Science and Resilience, was in charge of this wonderful organism. Working with him was Dr Jonathan Barichivich, botanist and grandson of the tree’s discoverer in 1972.
Agence France Presse (AFP) reports that, in 2020, Lara actually drilled into the tree to take a sample and study the rings (which are known to be the way to decree the age of a tree). Lara was only able to reach 40 per cent of the trunk’s radius, but even so he was able to count no less than 2,400 rings. However, it is not possible to determine the age of these trees with mathematical accuracy, since their centres are ‘rotten’ from the weather.
So how was the age of this tree found? The rings found by Professor Lara were counted and studied, and then statistical studies were carried out based on the observation of other cypresses in the Patagonian area, being endemic to this place between Argentina and Chile.
Dr Lara himself, to AFP, emphasised the importance of protecting, preserving and studying this cypress. This is because in addition to its historical value, the fact that a single plant has been able to survive almost five millennia could help researchers study the effects of climate change, and even, perhaps, a way to combat it.
Researchers have nicknamed him ‘Great Grandfather’, obviously because of his advanced age, but the name in the original Spanish language, his home, is Alerce Milenario.
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