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 in ancient times. For the record the oldest living human on record was 122 years, a mere speck of time to some of these trees.
Iran’s oldest tree is so beloved that it is a national monument. Zoroastrian Sarv or the Cypress of Abarkuh is estimated to be 4,000 year old and as its name implies it is a cypress tree located in Central Iran in the Yazd Province near the city of Abarkuh. Sprouting about the time that the people of Central Asia were developing the wheel with spokes, it is believed to be the second oldest living thing in Asia and could possibly be the oldest. With a height of 25 meters and a circumference of 18 meters it is truly a giant. The tree was first mentioned in the 14th century and was described as already having global fame. The tree has been depicted in both Persian and Iranian books and artwork.
Legend says that Japheth, the son of Noah (of the Great Flood fame) planted the tree. Favorable local conditions have allowed the cypress to live as long as it has though modern urbanization is creeping ever closer. The city of Abarkuh and its approximately 21,000 residents are nearby and getting closer.
For the Zoroastrians planting a tree was something of great importance and cypress trees were the most valued as they stayed green all year long. Zoroastrianism was one of the world’s oldest and most influential religions as it is one of the earliest monotheistic faiths. It is believed that the notion of heaven and hell along with free will originated with it. There are an estimated 2.6 million followers today mostly living in Iran and India.
In Persian times the cypress tree was the centerpiece of a garden. Today a dedicated gardener looks after the tree and the primary danger to it comes from termites. Many birds and other small mammals call its branches home and many locals also tie small pieces of cloth to the branches as a votive offering. Despite its important place in Iranian culture the tree is vandalized from time to time.
There is evidence that modern pollution and urbanization will lead to the death of the tree. Tourism brings about 50-100 people to the tree daily and that foot traffic is compacting the soil near it. Residential areas are coming closer with a newly constructed road and houses right next to the park and with all of the traffic brings the inevitable pollution. There have been attempts to place the Zoroastrian Sarv on UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage list but they have been unsuccessful to date.