These magnificent plants provide us with oxygen, food and raw materials today, and their ancestors have helped fuel and build our civilizations for thousands of years.
What/Where was the first tree on earth?
Trees are some of the oldest organisms on the planet. They first evolved around 370 million years ago and it is currently estimated that there are over 3 trillion mature trees in the world.
The earliest forms for trees in the fossil record are tree ferns, horsetails, and lycophytes. These plants evolved sometime in the Carboniferous period.
However, there might be some evidence that pushes their evolution back by around 15 million years to the Middle Devonian period - roughly 385 million years ago. A fossil, called Wattieza, was found in New York State that could be the oldest tree ever discovered.
Like many early plants of this period, these early trees produced spores rather than seeds like modern trees.
Trees would later diversify throughout the Mesozoic where one genus, Ginkophyta, still exists in one form today called Ginkgo Biloba. This is considered to be a living fossil and has virtually unchanged since the Triassic Period.
1. This is thought to be the oldest individual clonal tree in the world
A single spruce tree in the Dalarna province of Sweden was found to be the oldest tree in the world in 2008. Dubbed "Old Tjikko" this tree is truly ancient.
Technically speaking, this tree is the oldest individual of a colony of trees. Clonal trees, like spruces, are able to propagate using their root systems to produce new offspring.
Carbon dating of the tree indicates that it at least 9,550 years old. That's almost double that of previous record holders in North America.
Interestingly, it was previously thought that spruce trees were newcomers to Sweden. This discovery completely blew this theory out of the water.
Other neighboring trees were found to be of similar age and, more importantly, of the same genetic makeup as this arboreal ancient. Scientists have also found clusters of other spruce trees from Lapland to Dalarna that are generally over 8,000 years old on average.
These are some very hardy plants indeed.
2. Here are some more clonal trees that are truly ancient
Whilst the discovery of "Old Tjikko" is impressive, there is a much older clonal colony in the world. This colony called the Pando or "Trembling Giant", is made up of over 40,000 individual trees with the entire colony believed to be over 80,000 years old.
The colony is made up of "Quaking Aspen" (Populus Tremuloides) and is located in Fishlake National Forest in South-Central Utah. Not only is it ancient, but this dense superorganism is estimated to weigh a total of around 13 million pounds or 5,896,701 kg.
It spreads over a total of 106 acres and is thought to have originated at the end of the last ice age. Whilst the oldest individual trees in the colony rarely exceed 130 years old, the entire colony has been shown to be of exceedingly old age.
Its enormous size, weight, and age have made Pando famous worldwide. Sadly, recent observations seem to indicate that the colony is in decline.
This has been attributed to a lack of regeneration along with insects and disease as well as environmental factors.
3. This tree is thought to have been planted by Zoroaster
"Sarv-e Abarkuh" (Abarkuh Cypress) is also believed to be one of the oldest trees in the world. Its age has been estimated to be anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 years old.
The tree has been cultivated for many years so its very difficult to be absolutely sure of its exact age. Local legend indicates that the tree was actually planted by none other than the Iranian prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra.
This prophet would go on to forge the world's first recognized and still practiced, monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism, that is widely believed to be the inspiration for the later Abrahamic faiths.
As you might expect, the tree is a protected national monument. It is also one of the most popular attractions in the city of Abarkuh where it is located.
4. This Bristlecone Pine is yet to be confirmed as the oldest individual tree
An unnamed Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus Longaeva) might be the eldest individual tree in the world. It was originally identified and cored by Edmund Schulman in the 1950s but he never got the chance to age it before passing away in 1958.
The tree's age was later determined in 2010 by Tom Harlan who was working on Schulman samples he had collected before he died. The tree is still alive and was dated to be over 5,060 years old.
But as of 2017, the age of this tree has not been able to be confirmed; the core dated by Tom Harlan has not been located at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. This does throw the entire claim into question, but this is certainly a very old tree whichever way you cut it.
5. Prometheus was a very old tree indeed
Called "Prometheus" this Great Basin Bristlecone Pine was one of the oldest trees in the world. Sadly the tree died in 1964.
It was located in a grove of several other old trees In Wheeler Park, Nevada. In 1964 a geographer, Ronald R. Currey, was given permission to core the tree which he suspected to be over 4,000 years old.
The circumstances behind the tree's demise are a little hazy. Whatever the case was, the tree was felled and a core sample obtained once it was down.
It was only later that the tree's true age was determined but by then it was too late to save this ancient tree. Researchers were able to count the tree's rings and found that it was around 4,860 years old.
Some have even raised this estimate to about 4,900 years old as it probably didn't grow a ring every year due to the area's harsh climatic conditions in the past.
6. Methuselah is very old and still going strong
Named after the long-lived Biblical figure "Methuselah" (who according to canon lived to be 969 years old) was found in 1957 by Edmund Schulman. It's age, like the previously unnamed Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, was found to be 4,789 years old at the time.
Its exact location is kept a secret from the general public to prevent any risk of vandalism. But it is located somewhere in the White Mountains of Inyo County in California.
It is also in good company with various other ancient trees surrounding it. Based on the tree’s age, it is estimated that Methuselah germinated around 2832 BCE, making it older than the famous Egyptian pyramids.
That's, frankly, absolutely incredible when you think about it.
7. The Llangernyw Yew is one of the oldest trees in Europe
Its exact age is contested but it holds an authorized certificate that states that "according to all the data we have to hand" the tree is somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 years old.
Other theories suggest the tree is actually much younger, at around 1,500 years old.
It's very hard to narrow this down further as the tree has become highly fragmented with various enormous offshoots. It has a truly enormous girth with the tree's diameter at its base being 10.75 meters.
Because of its current extent, the core (or oldest part of the tree) is nigh-on impossible to identify.
As an aside, legend holds that the tree is associated with a figure from ancient Welsh mythology. It is linked in legend with a special spirit called "Angelystor" (the "Recorded Angel") who visits every Halloween to foretell which of the parishioners will die the following year - nice!