How to live until you’re 10,000: Turn into a tree

National Geographic How old can something living be? Humans aren’t too good, coming in at about 75 years in the developed world. Tortoises often live until they’re 150, but 150’s nothing compared to some trees. A few Bristlecone pines in California date back a massive 5000 years, but they may no longer be the oldest living thing in the world.

A new tree found in Sweden has been alive for a staggering 10,000 years according to scientists, meaning it started growing just after the end of the last Ice Age

 It doesn’t look like the most impressive of trees – OK , I have to admit it looks pretty pathetic since it’s supposed to have been growing for so long. (I thought maybe National Geographic had put the wrong picture up until I read the article. 🙂 )

But this tree has a special trick: the trunk lasts for ‘only’ about half a century, and when the trunk dies a new shoot springs up from the roots. This means that what we actually see of the tree isn’t that old, but its roots have been radiocarbon-dated back thousands of years. (I hope I don’t get any comments from my older readers who wish they were a tree – the trees’ method of looking young is so much more effective than all these beauty creams.)

National Geographic The good news is that this tree could mean our planet won’t suffer quite as much from climate change. Because it started growing so soon after the last Ice Age, it’s started scientists thinking that maybe trees can migrate faster than we thought, so maybe there won’t be as many dead trees because of global warming.

I always like good news – it’s great to hear that maybe our forests won’t die as soon as we thought they might. But that’s not an excuse for us to forget about the environment – after all, it simply means that the trees will take longer to die out.

And there’s some bad news for this little tree too unless we stop churning out extra carbon: it will soon be swamped by thousands of other trees that will migrate north because of our pollution, and it will probably die. Just think about that next time you get in your car.

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One Response

  1. That’s an inspiring story, Richard! We’ve seen some Eastern White Cedars in Ontario that are more than 500 years old, but I’ve read about the tree in California (appropriately called “Methusela”) which is nearly 5,000 years old. But 10,000 years… that’s mind-bogging. I sure hope the environment around that little tree will be protected!

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