A preliminary estimate of the age of a colossal tree located in Chile suggests it could be around 5,400 years old. If this is confirmed, it would then officially become the oldest tree in the world. The record is currently still held by Methuselah, a bristlecone pine from eastern California that is approximately 4,853 years old.
It stands proudly in the Alerce Costero National Park. It is a Patagonian cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides), a conifer native to Chile and Argentina also nicknamed the “southern redwood” because of its imposing size. These trees are indeed capable of reaching seventy meters in height for about five meters in trunk diameter. Unfortunately, the species is threatened in Chile due to logging and endemic tourism in the region.
Over 5,400 years old
It is often possible to estimate the age of a tree by counting the number of rings in a cross-sectional trunk. However, due to the enormous size of the tree, it was not possible here to drill a core into the entire trunk. There is indeed no tool long enough to extract a sample reaching the center of the tree. And even if we had one, it’s possible that this area is rotten anyway.
To operate, Dr. Jonathan Barichivich, from the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in Paris, took a carrot using a special T-shaped drill that does not damage the trunk. The rest of the rings therefore had to be estimated using statistical modeling based on the growth rate of the species and environmental factors. With this method, the researcher estimated that the tree started growing 5,484 years ago.
New record ?
Note that this work has not yet been peer reviewed. On the other hand, if these results are confirmed, then we would have a new oldest tree in the world.
The record is still held by the Methuselah tree, a Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) so named because it was considered since 1964 to be the oldest non-clonal living organism on the planet. Found in California, it was 4,789 years old when it was studied in 1957. Note that there is a clonal organism that is 9,550 years old. This is a spruce grove located in Sweden.
The researcher is confident that his study will stand up to scrutiny. However, this potential record is not really the most important according to him. Since the discovery of this tree by his grandfather in the 1970s, many members of his family have indeed worked as rangers in the Alerce Costero National Park. Over these few decades, all have witnessed the ravages of human activity in this once pristine ecosystem. Through this work, he hopes to highlight the desperate need to protect this unique environment.