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Monday, November 23, 2009

Bristlecone Pine - World's Oldest Living Trees

The bristlecone pines are a small group of pine trees (Family Pinaceae, genus Pinus, subsection Balfourianae) that are thought to reach an age far greater than that of any other single living organism known, up to nearly 5,000 years.

The oldest (acknowledged) living organism known is a bristlecone pine tree nicknamed "Methuselah" (after Methuselah, the longest-lived person in the Bible). Methuselah is located in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of eastern California, however its precise location is undisclosed by the U.S. Forest Service to protect the tree from vandalism. The age of Methuselah was measured by core samples in 1957 to be 4,789 years old.

Bristlecone pines grow in isolated groves at and just below the tree line. Because of cold temperatures, dry soils, high winds, and short growing seasons, the trees grow very slowly. The wood is very dense and resinous, and thus resistant to invasion by insects, fungi, and other potential pests. As the tree ages, much of its vascular cambium layer may die. In very old specimens, often only a narrow strip of living tissue connects the roots to a handful of live branches.