More than a thousand years before the oldest sequoia was a seedling, Alerce Milenario grew in fog and humidity, deep in a ravine in the coastal mountains of Chile.
It kept its mossy whereabouts a secret for more than 5,000 years until it reached 200 feet in the sky, supported by a 13-foot-diameter trunk. And then, 50 years ago, a park ranger saw the Patagonian cypress.
Its exact age can probably only be determined by taking a core sample and counting its seasoned rings under a microscope. The park rangers are unwilling to disturb the ancient tree. Most of the tree is already dead, and its living part relies on a fragile root system that could be killed by foot traffic.
Instead of ring cores, tree scientists have used statistical models, using cores from other nearby larches. They believe the tree is 5,484 years old.
That would put it far ahead of California’s oldest redwoods, which reach an age of more than 3,600 years.
If correct, the larch would still be older than the gnarled Methuselah tree of California’s White Mountains. That ancient bristlecone pine germinated 4,800 years ago before the Egyptian pyramids were built. As with all ancient ones, its exact location is kept secret to protect it from vandals and modern sympathizers.
Bristlecone pines are believed to be the oldest living individual organisms and now live on protected federal lands.
Methuselah has contemporaries who are still alive today. There’s Sarv-e Abarkuh, a huge cypress in Iran, and Llangernyw Yew in Wales, both of which are believed to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old.
If you consider the root systems of the trees and not the age of the trunk, none of these ancients come close to the 100 acres of aspen in Utah, called Pando. The 47,000 trees in the Pando are stems that grow from a single root system, which is certainly tens of thousands of years old.
In Sweden, Old Tjikko, just 16 feet tall, has a root system thought to be 9,500 years old, though the trunk is only a few hundred years old, according to the journal Science.