How Long Do Trees Live?

About 270 miles north of Los Angeles, a remarkable tree juts out of a rocky landscape. The tree isn’t terribly attractive, nor large, nor some member of a critically endangered species.

This tree is remarkable because it is about 5,000 years old – give or take a few decades.

The tree in question is a bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). A hardy species that thrives amid harsh landscapes, there are many ancient specimens growing throughout the eastern portions of our state and parts of Utah and Nevada.

For some time, researchers believed they had identified the oldest living individual – 4849-year-old specimen named Methuselah. However, researchers recently documented an unnamed individual which appears to be about 150 years older than the previous record holder.

We know that this tree grows in the Ancient Bristlecone Forest (part of the Inyo National Forest), but to protect the trees from vandals, its precise location has not been divulged to the public.

Which Tree Species Live the Longest?

Bristlecone pines aren’t the only trees that have lifespans reaching into four-digit territory. Cypress trees (Cupressus sempervirens) often live for extraordinarily long times; a 4,500-year-old specimen called Cypress of Abarkuh is currently growing in Iran.

A few European yews (Taxus baccata) are also very old; estimates of their exact age vary between 2,000 and 5,000 years. At least one olive tree (Olea europaea) growing in Greece is known to be at least 2,000 years old, and many contend that it may be more than twice this age.

Although relative youngsters, sacred figs (Ficus religiosa) also reach advanced ages, although most of the oldest documented specimens are in the 2,500-year-old range. Several Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica) have also reached ages in excess of 2,000 years.

A number of other species routinely reach 1,000 to 2,000 years of age, but the vast majority of tree species have much shorter average lifespans. Many, including a number of fruit trees, only live for a few decades at best. And while this seems like a negative attribute when discussing trees that have been around since the construction of the pyramids, short-lived species can be quite useful in some applications.

An Important Caveat: Clones Cause Confusion

While the unnamed bristlecone pine referenced above is considered the oldest living tree, an 80,000-year-old aspen grove is growing in Utah at this very moment. Unlike run-of-the-mill tree clumps, this grove is primarily represented by a single organism – an organism that has lived for this entire time.

While the bristlecone pine (and other long-lived species mentioned above) is a single stemmed tree, aspens grow as huge colonial organisms connected by a single, interconnected root system. While the individual stems (which you’d normally think of as individual trees) live relatively brief lives, the root system persists and produces new stems to replace those that die.

A similar example of a colonial species with a long lifespan is a Norway spruce growing in Sweden. Although the trunk that stands today isn’t the same one that initially erupted from the ground, the tree’s root system is about 10,000 years old.

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Of course, even long-lived species don’t always enjoy lengthy lives – a variety of factors can shorten the lifespan of an individual tree. But if you take good care of your trees and have them inspected regularly by an experienced arborist consultant, you can give them a great shot at a long, healthy life. If you’d like to give your trees the best chance of living a long and healthy life, give your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants a call. One of our arborists will inspect your trees and provide tips for supporting them in the most beneficial way possible.

Who knows? Maybe one of your cypresses or pines will still be standing thousands of years from now.