The oldest cat ever recorded lived to be 38 years old. The oldest a human being has ever lived was 122 years. Yet compared to the oldest trees in the world, these achievements are a blink of an eye. The oldest living trees have seen the rise and fall of the Romans, the development of religions and civilization itself. They were alive before we invented the technology necessary to gauge their age.
The first few trees on this list are always in dispute. Their ages are largely estimates spanning hundreds of years, which makes them hard to rank accurately. Other trees, many without official names, may have places on this list as well. To date them all accurately would require technology we do not possess.
10. General Sherman
When most Americans are asked to name an old and gigantic tree, they would probably think of the Sequoia National Park and the Giant Sequoia trees that stand within it. Pictures of tunnels wide enough to fit cars carved in the trunks come to mind. General Sherman has no such carvings, and it is the oldest tree in the park. It is between 2,300 and 2,700 years old, and is the largest tree by volume in the world.
9. Old Chestnut
Chestnut trees can grow very large, but none has grown larger than Old Chestnut. Lacking a more formal name, this particular tree is enormous, easily dwarfing any other tree of its species. Perched on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, the Old Chestnut is estimated to be somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.
Alyshun was something of a religious symbol to the local Buddhists of Taiwan. It was a slow-growing but long-lived tree thought to be around 3,000 years old. Unfortunately, its spot on the list of “oldest living trees” is now vacant. In 1997, following heavy rainfall and storms, the tree collapsed.
Deep in the forests of Brazil, Patriarch towers over all the lesser trees nearby. It is one of the largest trees in the Atlantic Forest and is almost definitely the oldest non-conifer tree in South America. Patriarch is at least 3,000 years old.
6. Jomon Sugi
This particular tree is a cryptomeria, standing 83 feet tall. It’s part of an extensive old forest in Japan, clinging to the side of Yakushima Island’s tallest mountain. Samples of the rotten core of the tree are inconclusive for aging purposes, with figures ranging from the generally accepted 2,000 years old to the much more astonishing 7,000. If the latter is true, it may be close to the top of this list instead.
From here on, the list is much more solid, with a few caveats. The trees below are all still alive, and are all incredibly old. They also do not include clonal colonies of trees, which can be much, much older.
5. The Senator
Florida is wracked continually with hurricanes every year. To survive, a plant must either bend with the wind or have the strength to resist it. The Senator is of the latter kind. It is the largest tree east of the Mississippi river and stands 125 feet tall. It is a Bald Cypress, living in Florida’s Big Tree Park, and it is estimated to be 3,500 years old. This secures it the fifth spot among the oldest trees in the world. When it sprouted in 1500 BC, the Polynesians were just settling Fiji; while possibly, the biblical exodus was taking place.
The oldest tree to have its exact age calculated is Alerce. It is a Patagonia Cypress, which is a species of tree known to have been around for 35 million years. Fossilized remains have been found to prove the existence of this ancient breed. Alerce itself is a spry youth by comparison. It is only 3,620 years old. These trees grow to massive ages, but they gain only a millimeter or two of girth per year as they age. A full-grown example of the species takes nearly a thousand years to reach maturity.
3. Llangernyw Yew
The Llangernyw Yew is a Common Yew, but there is nothing common about this specific plant. Not only has this tree seen the rise of industrial civilization, it lived through the rise of the Bronze Age itself. Yews are long-lived trees, but this one has made a point of living apparently forever. How does a yew stay so young? The core trunk can die, but the offshoots will take root within it, or in the soil at the base. The Llangernyw Yew is between 3,000 and 4,000 years old.
This tree is a national monument of Iran, with strong national and religious connotations. Also known as the Zoroastrian Sarv, its exact age is estimated to be somewhere between 4,000 and 4,500 years old. It stands 82 feet high and measures a circumference of almost 38 feet.
Hidden deep within the Methuselah Alley, Nevada grows the oldest living tree in the world. The tree takes its name from the forest, also known as the Forest of the Ancients. While park rangers keep the location of the specific tree a secret, there are quite a number of ancient trees in the park. Methuselah itself is 4,800 years old.
Honorable Mention: Pando
Pando is not a single tree so much as a grove covering 107 acres of land in Utah. Each stem of the grove lives an average of 130 years, but what makes it special is how it reproduces. Each stem is effectively a genetic clone of each other stem, stretching back thousands of years. Estimates based on the growth rate of the grove place it between 80,000 and 1,000,000 years old. Other clonal colonies have extreme ages as well, but they are not quite single trees and so don’t rank on this list.
Written By: Donald Alvord at Bonsai Tree Gardener