Climate Secrets in World’s Oldest Tree

5,000-Year-Old Tree Discovered in Chile: A Time Capsule of Earth's History

Mon 15 May 23


In the lush forest of Chile, a colossus named the “Great Grandfather” stands tall, a living testament to over 5,000 years of Earth’s history. This Patagonian cypress, or Fitzroya cupressoides, is believed to surpass California’s Methuselah as the oldest tree in the world, making it a vital resource for understanding our planet’s response to climate change.

The Great Grandfather is in the southern Los Rios region, measuring 28 meters in height and 4 meters in diameter. Discovered in 1972 by park warden Anibal Henriquez during a routine patrol, this ancient sentinel has now caught the attention of the scientific community and tree enthusiasts alike.

Footage courtesy of @aljazeeraenglish
The Struggle for Survival

Antonio Lara, a researcher at Austral University and Chile’s Centre for Climate Science and Resilience, explained the tree’s unique resilience. “It’s a survivor; there are no others that have had the opportunity to live so long,” he said.

Unfortunately, the tree’s survival has been a continuous battle. Its thick trunk, an ideal material for building houses and ships, was heavily logged in the 19th and 20th centuries. To ensure its protection, the national forestry body has increased park ranger numbers and restricted access to the area.

Jonathan Barichivich, a nephew of the original discoverer Anibal Henriquez, and Lara have taken up the challenge of determining the tree’s age. Using a manual drill in 2020, they extracted a sample from the Great Grandfather but couldn’t reach its core. The sample was estimated to be 2,400 years old, but the predictive model suggested the tree might be around 5,000 years old. “80 percent of the possible trajectories show the tree would be 5,000 years old,” Barichivich said.

Unlocking Secrets of the Past

The study of the Great Grandfather holds a significant value beyond breaking records. Carmen Gloria Rodriguez, an assistant researcher at the dendrochronology and global change laboratory at Austral University, said, “They are like an open book and we are like the readers who read every one of their rings.” These rings indicate dry and rainy years and record fires and earthquakes, such as the historic 1960 earthquake that struck the region.

“There are many other reasons that give value and sense to this tree and the need to protect it,” Lara added. The few trees that have endured for millennia on Earth bear unique genetic markers and history. “The ancient trees have genes and a very special history because they are symbols of resistance and adaptation. They are nature’s best athletes,” Barichivich further explained.

The Great Grandfather, an icon of endurance, serves as a time capsule, providing a glimpse into our planet’s past. Barichivich issued a stern warning, “If these trees disappear, so too will disappear an important key about how life adapts to changes on the planet.”

As the world awaits the publication of the Great Grandfather’s study, this monumental tree continues its silent vigil, a resilient guardian of Earth’s past, present, and future.


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