The world’s oldest tree, the Great-Grandfather tree, was found to be 5,484 years old.

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Scientists from Chile found that The Great-Grandfather, a four-meter-thick Patagonian cypress known as the world’s oldest living tree, was more than 600 years older than the previous record-holder.

At least 600 years older than the last competitor, the coniferous tree, also known as Alerce Milenario in Spanish, was studied by Chilean scientist Jonathan Barichivich at the Climate and Environmental Sciences Laboratory in Paris. The announcement was dubbed a “marvellous scientific discovery,” according to Maisa Rojas, Chile’s environment minister and a representative on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A native of Chile and Argentina, the Patagonian cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides), commonly known as the alerce in Spanish, is a tree that belongs to the same family as massive redwoods.

Barichivich took a sample of the Great-Grandfather in 2020 but could not drill all the way through to the centre. Computer models that considered the random variation and environmental factors were then used to determine the tree’s age.

Due to his inability to thoroughly count the tree’s year rings, Barichivich has not been able to publish an estimation of the tree’s age in a scholarly journal. Nevertheless, as he has mentioned, he wants to make up for it in the coming months.

If the findings are confirmed, Alerce Milenario would be 600 years older than the smooth pine in California known as Methuselah, which is now believed to be the world’s oldest tree and is 4,853 years old.

Image credit: Yen Chao

Methuselah, a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) tree that is 4,853 years old and is located high in the White Mountains of Inyo County in eastern California was once a candidate to be crowned the oldest tree in the world.

Great-Grandfather lives in the cool, humid environment of Alerce Costero National Park, and its fissures provide shelter for mosses, lichens and other plants.

According to Barichivich, the tree is threatened by visitors to the park being able to walk around its trunk and droughts caused by global warming.

According to Chile’s forestry institute, logging plantations in the south cover more than 2.3m hectares, as cellulose production is a major industry.

While water-thirsty non-native pine and eucalyptus plantations make up 93% of this area, over 780,000 hectares of native forest were lost in Chile between 1973 and 2011.

We can only hope that Great-Grandfather and its counterparts in the wilderness will survive human activity.

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