Tree Could Be Over 5,000 Years Old

Back in 1972, the grandfather of Jonathan Barichivich discovered a Patagonian cypress that might be the oldest tree in the world. He found it in the Andes Mountains of South America in the Alerce Costero National Park in Chile.

Today, Barichivich of Chile is an environmental scientist working at the Climate and Environmental Sciences Laboratory in Paris. He wants to protect the tree that could be up to 5,484 years old. That’s more than 600 years older than a bristlecone pine in Eastern California that is now considered to be the oldest tree in the world.

After Barichivich’s grandfather found the tree, members of his family have worked hard to protect the Patagonian cypress species, which is known for its slow growth and huge size. The tree has been lovingly named the Gran Abuelo, which means great grandfather. It is almost 200 feet tall, has a 13-foot thick trunk and is 36 feet around.

Barichivich and his family are worried that the tree might be destroyed by tourists. Over 10,000 people visit the tree every year. It is easy for them to leave a platform that surrounds the base of the tree and climb over its sensitive roots. As a result, the tree may be dying. Only 28 percent of it remains alive, mostly at the roots.

He was curious about how old the tree really is, so in 2020, just before the pandemic, he and a team used a borer to get a core sample from the cypress. This dendrochronology technique lets researchers count the growth rings in a tree to learn how old the tree is. However, Gran Abuelo was so thick that the borer could only get a three-foot sample. In that sample were 2,400 rings.

Since they couldn’t get to the rest of the tree, Barichivich and the team used “statistical modeling and completed cores from similar trees to simulate growth rates,” according to an article in the June 24, 2022 Treehugger News about the ancient tree. The process involved over 10,000 simulations, and it led to the estimated age of 5,484 years. Barichivich said the process provides an 80 percent chance that the tree is at least 5,000 years old.

Not everyone is convinced that the tree is the oldest in the world. Some say that only counting all the cypress’s tree rings can prove its age. Others are waiting for Barichivich to submit a peer-reviewed paper about the details of his attempts to determine its age.

He is very curious about how old the tree is, but he doesn’t want to find the answer in a way that will seriously damage the already struggling tree. His family loves the tree and is more interested in protecting it than in breaking records.

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