Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Earth's Oldest Trees

Trembling Giants, originally uploaded by Michæl Paukner.
Trees can be really, really old. I found this great illustration of the world's oldest trees on Flickr. It's creator, Michael Paukner, is a graphic designer and artist from Austria. He makes lots visual representations of scientific information and his stuff is really cool. Check it out.

The world's oldest trees are not necessarily trees as we think of them. They're not one trunk with branches and leaves that has stood for a million years. The oldest trees are actually clonal colonies, a series of genetically identical individuals deriving from one ancestor. With trees, that means a really old root colony that has continually produced shoots over millennia. Pando, the worlds oldest "tree" is actually an aspen colony in Fishlake National Forest in Utah. It's estimated to be 80,000+ years old. It also happens to be the world's heaviest living organism. It doesn't look like a tree - it's an aspen stand, a group of trees.

The world's oldest single tree was a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) named Prometheus. It grew in Nevada was chopped down in 1964. Its rings revealed it to be 5000 years old. The current record holder is also a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine. This one's named Methuselah and it grows in California. Its exact location is a secret so no idiots will cut it down. PBS and Nova have a great site on Methuselah and bristlecones here.


Sean said...

I wonder why trees evolved into individual units instead of sharing a root system. You'd think it would be easier to reporduce by just sprouting up a new tree. Also, I wonder how an organism which is a carbon copy without diversity could evolve.

Eric said...

I think the clone colonies are more primitive reproductive structures, but I'm pretty sure most plants can clone naturally (i.e. - when people take cuttings of plants like the 18th and 19th century botanists did to sell exotic plants in Europe) but only some do so naturally. I think those clone colony plants also have forms of sexual reproduction as well as the asexual, cloning form.

Angelo R. said...

Saw this on reddit today. Great illustration. Now I need to go visit Pando.

Eric said...

I want to visit Pando now, too. It's not too far from AZ, but just far enough to make it a hassle.