'Great Grandfather': Researchers may have found the world's oldest tree

The world record for the oldest tree on the planet might soon be taken by a 5,000-year-old Chilean tree.
Sejal Sharma
5,000-year-old Great Grandfather Fitzroya tree
5,000-year-old Great Grandfather Fitzroya tree


Methuselah, an approximately 4,853-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine in eastern California in the United States, is currently regarded as the oldest tree on Earth. 

Its legacy is challenged by a gigantic tree in a forest in southern Chile, whose trunk measures four meters in diameter and stands 28 meters tall. It is a Fitzroya cupressoides or Patagonian cypress, a curious tree that typically grows in the rainforest but depends on catastrophic fire to regenerate stands. It’s a type of tree that is endemic to the south of South America.

Also called the ‘Great Grandfather’

Antonio Lara, a researcher at Austral University in Argentina, is part of the team measuring the tree's age. "It's a survivor, there are no others that have had the opportunity to live so long,” notes Lara.

Lara, along with another scientist Jonathan Barichivich, who interestingly played around the tree in his childhood, is working on a study whose results will be published soon.

Barichivich told ABC News that the Great Grandfather was discovered by his grandfather in 1972. His grandfather was a park ranger in Chile's Alerce Costero National Park, and he along with the rest of his family has protected the tree from tourists and put the protective gear in place to safeguard the tree.

In 2020, Lara and Barichivich along with their team extracted a sample from the Great Grandfather but owing to the thickness of its trunk, they could not reach the middle. Via a predictive model, they calculated the age of the tree and estimated that their sample was 2,400 years old.

Barichivich told France24 that, "80 percent of the possible trajectories show the tree would be 5,000 years old."

ABC News also spoke to Adam Millward, managing editor at Guinness World Records, who said that although the Patagonian cypress is the world’s second oldest species, there is "no denying its longevity potential," but the team’s evidence for this tree to be regarded as the world’s oldest isn’t strong enough.

"Given this novel technique of aging trees is yet to be peer-reviewed and more widely adopted by the dendrochronological community, it's our view that it would be premature to recognize these estimates for Alerce Milenario at this time. If that were to change in the future, or if new evidence were to come to light, GWR can certainly reassess its claim for the title," added Millward.

More than just a world record

The new challenger to the world’s oldest tree has certainly aroused a will-be-won’t-be debate, but it’s also a cause for much excitement among the scientific community owing to what else the tree and its rings could reveal about mankind and history.

The formation of rings inside the trunks of trees is how it keeps track of information about the weather. It’s endured and even a record of earthquakes and fires it’s undergone.

"They are like an open book and we are like the readers who read every one of their rings," said Carmen Gloria Rodriguez, an assistant researcher at the dendrochronology and global change laboratory at Austral University, to France24.

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