The Oldest Trees On Earth

This past week while on vacation at Folly Beach, SC, I had the opportunity to visit a natural wonder.  Down a dirt road in the low country of South Carolina there is a tree older than the United States!  The Angel Oak tree is estimated at 300-400 years old.

The Angel Oak Tree (named after the Angel family who originally owned the property) is a specimen of live oak (quercus virginiana) that is a native species found throughout the coastal Carolinas.  The tree is massive!  It is 25.5 feet in circumference, stands 65 feet tall, and covers an area of 17,000 square feet! While the Angel Oak tree is the oldest tree on the east coast it isn’t even close to the oldest trees on Earth.


The Oldest Trees

  • A specimen of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, pinus longaeva, in the White Mountains of California was measured to be 5,062 years old in 2012 via a core sample to count the rings.  That makes it the oldest known tree on earth.
  • Llangernyw Yew may be the oldest individual tree in Europe.  Believed to be aged between 4,000 and 5,000 years old, this ancient yew (taxus baccata) is in the churchyard of the village of Langernnyw in North Wales.
  • The Fortingall Yew, another specimen of the species above is located in Perthshire, Scotland.  It is estimated at 2,000 – 5,000 years, although these days it is believed to be at the lower end of this range.
  • Fitroya cupressoides, commonly called Patagonian Cypress, is the species with the second oldest verified age.  A specimen in Chile was measured by ring count as 3,622 years old.
  • A Sacred Fig (ficus religiosa), called the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, is 2,303 years old (planted in 288 BC).  It is the oldest know living to date human-planted tree in the world.

Reviving an Extinct Species

Ruins of Masada

Ruins of Masada

In 2005, a seed from the previously extinct Judean date palm was revived and managed to sprout after nearly 2,000 years following a chance discovery of seeds in the 2,000 year old ruins of Masada.  It is the oldest verified human-assisted germination of a seed.  Now attempts are being made to revive a female seed of the same species.  (Date palms require a male and female tree to produce viable seeds.)

The extinction of the Judean date palm is a story of war and conquest.  It is also a reminder of how human actions on earth can have a lasting impact on the earth.  If you have been watching A.D.: The Bible Continues on NBC this spring, you’ve seen the beginning of this story.

For thousands of years, the date palm was a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea, as it was a source of food, shelter, and shade.  Thick forests of palms towered up to 80 feet and spread for miles along the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south.  So recognized was the tree that it became the symbol of good fortune in Judea.

However, its value was also the source of its demise and eventual extinction.  During the First Jewish – Roman War (66 – 73 A.D.), the tree so defined the local economy that it became a prime target for the Roman army to destroy.  Once the Roman Empire regained control of the region in 70 A.D., the date palms were wiped out in an attempt to cripple the Jewish economy.  The effort eventually succeeded, and by 500 A.D. the once plentiful palm had completely disappeared, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest.