Trees are some of the oldest known living organism on the planet. Surviving on this planet for 385 million years, only a handful of organisms live longer lives, mostly sponges, coral and bacteria. Trees have survived nearly every disaster this planet has seen and there are trees on this planet that have been alive for millennia. While the trees themselves cannot speak, the record they contain inside their bark help modern scientists understand what the world looked like in ancient times. For the record the oldest living human lived to 122 years, a mere speck of time to some of these trees.
The oldest known living tree is in Sweden and is known as Old Tjikko. The 16 foot spruce tree in the Dalarna region of Sweden is approximately 9,550 years old. Think about that for a moment! When this tree sprouted Great Britain was not an island but a part of mainland Europe and agriculture was just beginning to be practiced by our ancestors. Its name was given to it by the scientist who discovered the tree, who named it after his dog. The tree itself is only 16 feet tall, though it has little opportunity to grow tall as it is located on Fulufjȁllet Mountain in the north of Sweden and for many years this tree simply appeared to be a shrub due to the harsh conditions. That certainly explains why it was overlooked for so long.
The tree has been able to survive through a process called vegetative cloning, where the trunk of the tree may die but the root system remains alive and well and sprouts a new trunk. Heavy snow also pushes the tree to the ground during the winter, allowing new roots to sprout from the leaves through a process called layering. The tree’s age was determined by carbon dating the root system finding some roots at only a few hundred years old but several at well over 5,000 years. Also clustered near Old Tjikko are a number of other spruces dating to about 8,000 years old.
Old Tjikko is accessible to the public though the path is unmarked as Swedish authorities want to prevent any vandalism to the tree. Older clonal colonies have been discovered, most famously the 80,000 year old Pando in Fish Lake National Forest, Utah and King Clone in the Mojave Desert in California which dates to 11,700 years ago. Both colonies are older than Old Tjikko’s colony in Sweden but with younger trees.