The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine in California is currently considered the oldest living tree in the world, at 4,853 years old. A cypress tree in Chile, however, now challenges that record.
Dr. Jonathan Barichivich, a researcher in Chile, believes that a Patagonian cypress, locally known as the Great Grandfather, may actually be the real record holder for the oldest living thing on Earth. The potential record-breaker could be up to 5,484 years old, that’s over 600 years older than the current title holder in California.
Chile’s environment minister, Maisa Rojas, who is also a member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change, called the news a “marvelous scientific discovery.”
Known in Spanish as the Alerce Milenario, the Patagonian cypress, Fitzroya cupressoides, is a conifer that grows in Chile and Argentina and belongs to the same family of giants as sequoias and redwoods. They can reach heights of up to 45m (150ft). One of the reasons they live so long is that their wood grows super slowly, making their thick wood difficult for pathogens to penetrate.
Two years ago, Barichivich attempted to remove a bore sample from the tree but couldn’t reach the core. He then proceeded to use computer modeling to factor in environmental changes and random variation to calculate the cypress’ age.
While the research has not been peer-reviewed yet, Barichivich is confident that the tree is at least 5,000 years old. He hopes to publish his findings in a journal in the coming months.
Currently, the people can still circle the four-meter-thick trunk of the Great-Grandfather. According to Barichivich, this poses a risk for the tree, which is already threatened by drought, warming temperatures, and more frequent wildfires.