His Grandfather Found a Tree That Could Be Planet's Oldest

Dr. Jonathan Barichivich's modeling indicates it could be 5,484 years old
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2022 9:30 AM CDT
Updated May 29, 2022 12:40 PM CDT
His Grandfather Found a Tree That Could Be Planet's Oldest
Alerce milenario.   (Wikimedia Commons)

Great-Grandfather is a pretty appropriate name for this tree, though Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-etc. might be more accurate. A Chilean scientist based in Paris says an Alerce tree (also known as Alerce Milenario) located in Chile might actually be the world's oldest tree—by a longshot. Dr. Jonathan Barichivich suspects it is as many as 5,484 years old, which would trounce the currently accepted oldest tree—a bristlecone pine in California referred to as Methuselah—by 600-plus years. But a caveat: Barichivich's study hasn't yet been published, though he hopes that will happen in the near future. The Guardian reports he took a bore sample from the tree in 2020, but the tool he had didn't allow him to reach its core, meaning he couldn't do a full count of the tree's growth rings.

What he did remove contained 2,400 rings, and Barichivich determined the tree's age using computer and statistical modeling. It returned that estimated age, along with an 80% chance the tree is 5,000 years old at a minimum. As Science reports, while some dendrochronologists say ring-counting is the only acceptable method for determining age, other experts see his conclusion as reasonable. "I fully trust the analysis that Jonathan has made," dendrochronologist Harald Bugmann says. "It sounds like a very smart approach."

The tree, a conifer that hails from the same family as giant sequoias and redwoods, was discovered by his grandfather around 1972, says Barichivich. He worked as a ranger, as did Barichivich's mother, and Barichivich spent his childhood visiting the tree, which sits in a damp ravine that has protected it from fires and logging. Science offers a detailed description of its appearance: "Much of the trunk died, part of the crown fell away, and the tree became festooned with mosses, lichens, and even other trees that took root in its crevices." Ahead of the hopeful publication of Barichivich's research, he is hoping Chile will take steps to prevent visitors from having access to the tree's base, as they do now. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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