Nevada, USA – In 1964, a geologist named Donald Currey discovered the oldest tree on Earth after killing it. Currey was in Peak Wheeler (Nevada) to develop a glacial timeline of the area and, for that, he dedicated himself to count the rings of Pinus longaeva, the long-lived pine. In his study, he used a kind of perforator to draw samples from the logs, but in one of them – labeled WPN-114, dubbed Prometheus – he got stuck. Currey advised the Forest Service, who cut down the titanic tree to retrieve the device.
When the scientist began to count the rings, he realized the mistake he had made. In an article for Ecology magazine he wrote: “It can tentatively be concluded that WPN-114 began to grow about 4,900 years ago.” Currey, without knowing it, had killed a tree of 4,844 years.
The death of Prometheus angered the press and public, but on the other hand, it encouraged the creation of the National Park of the Great Basin that protects the long-lived pines; You can not cut down or collect your wood. Pinus longaeva also grows in Utah and California where the older specimen lives. In the White Mountains, he is still alive – five times his Biblical namesake – Methuselah, 4,850 years old. But there is still another older than Methuselah. The top of the ranking is presided over by an unnamed tree of 5,067 years. These trees already existed before the Egyptians built the first pyramids, so their location is a secret. The US Forest Service refuses to reveal its exact coordinates to prevent vandalism (in fact, there are no images). Certainly,
Long-lived pines reside at high altitudes above 3,000 meters, in arid and rocky lands whipped by icy winds. Over the years, these adverse conditions have made them a tanned, strong and, above all, enduring species. Paradoxically, nature – as if it were a macabre sculptor – has given them a dying appearance. The twisted trunk is covered by a thick layer of resin that protects it from putrefaction, from parasites and fungi. On the contrary, the flash of lightning can ignite the resinous crust.
Fortunately, the fire does not usually end with these pines and even less with the forest: its capacity of recovery is remarkable, and the fire does not usually spread because there is a considerable distance between them. In a way, long-lived pines reach higher ages by avoiding or resisting external hazards. Likewise, where they live they do not have to compete against other plant species and, despite the poverty of the soil, the nutrients are sufficient to grow slowly.
Pinus longaeva is the oldest individual tree, but other species can be cloned and reach unbelievable ages. In Fishlake National Park Utah lives a poplar that is also a forest. This is Pando; A clonal colony that has emerged from a single tree of the species Populus tremuloides. Pando in Latin means “I expand” because it can be replicated through the root system resulting in new stems (some scientists speculate that has not been reproduced sexually in over 10,000 years). Its extension covers a territory as big as the Vatican City and in this grow about 50,000 genetically equal trunks. None of these clones live more than 200 years, but in total it is estimated to be about 80,000 years old. Unfortunately, Pando is dying. Many of the old trees begin to perish, and deer and cattle are eating new shoots. In some areas, perimeter fences have been installed to protect young poplars, but the dangers are not only local. Another cause of his death could be the combination of climate change, drought, and insects. Ultimately, saving the oldest tree on the planet depends on all of us.