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The Oldest Tree in the World

The Oldest Tree in the World

The oldest tree has a root system nearly 10,000 years old, meaning it germinated at the end of the Ice Age. Today we cover the discovery of “Old Tjikko”.

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The Oldest Tree in the World

In 2004, a team of scientists from Umeå University implemented an inventory of tree species in the Dalarna province of Sweden’s Fulu Mountain. During the census, the group discovered an assemblage of roughly 20 spruce trees that dated back over 8000 years. One of the trees, which a scientist nicknamed “Old Tjikko”, was revealed to have a root system that was over 9500 years old. The age was determined and confirmed in 2008 through radiocarbon-14 dating done by a laboratory located in Miami, Florida.

Prior to the discovery of “Old Tjikko”, the record for world’s oldest tree was held by “Methuselah”, a bristlecone pine that has been continuously standing in California’s White Mountains for over 4,700 years.

“Old Tjikko”, The Norway Spruce

The ancient Norway spruce, which measures 13-feet tall, was found at an altitude of 2,985 feet. The visible, above-ground portion of the tree is thought to be comparatively young, as spruce trunks only have a lifespan of approximately 600 years, but the root system was likely established at the end of the Ice Age when ice sheets receded due to warming allowing early nomadic humans to establish civilizations based on agriculture. Dr. Leif Kullman, a professor of physical geography at Sweden’s Umeå University, explained how the tree clones itself through a process known as vegetative propagation: “…as soon as a stem dies, a new one emerges from the same root stock. So the tree has a very long life expectancy.”

The survival of the tree was also attributed to the cold & dry climate, infrequent forest fires, and the isolated area which was rarely traveled by humans.

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“Old Tjikko” Advances Science

Here are a few scientific advances courtesy of “Old Tjikko”, the oldest tree in the world:

  • The Ice Age presumptively ended sooner than thought in the region, and summer climates following the Ice Age were probably warmer than our current summers. Trees much older than “Old Tjikko” would not have been possible due to ice sheets covering the landscape. “Deglaciation seems to have occurred much earlier than generally thought,” said Professor Kullman, “Perhaps the ice sheet during the Ice Age was much thinner than previously believed.”
  • Until the discover of “Old Tjikko”, spruces were thought to have been a recent migration to the mountain. “Prior to our studies the general conception was that spruce migrated to this area about 2,000 years ago, so now you will have to rewrite the textbooks,” said Professor Kullman. He also believes it is possible that Mesolithic humans introduced the spruce to the region as they wandered northward following receding ice sheets.

Google Trends History

The Google Trends graph below shows interest over time in the search term “old tjikko”. A peak surge of interest occurred in February of 2014 followed by smaller surges in May of 2014 and January of 2015.

Bottom Line

A tree with a root system dating back over 9500 years was discovered in Sweden in 2004. Preceding this discovery, the oldest known tree was a bristlecone pine (nicknamed “Methuselah”) located in California that was over 4700 years old. The discovery of the Swedish tree lent itself to three new scientific theories: The Ice Age ended earlier than previously thought in the region, the summer climates back then were likely warmer then they are now, and the spruce tree migrated to the area some 7000 years earlier than scientists formerly predicted.

Updated March 11, 2015
Originally published June 2014

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