In A Nutshell
The oldest known non-clonal tree in the world stands in the White Mountains of Eastern California—a bristlecone pine tree that is over 5,000 years old. It outlasted one of its neighbors, known as “Methuselah,” for the honor. A tree that may have been even older was cut down in 1964.
The Whole Bushel
Until recently, the oldest known tree in the world was a bristlecone pine known as “Methuselah”—after the Biblical figure—that was dated at over 4,800 years old. Its status was superseded in 2013 by the discovery of another tree of the same type, in the same region, that is over 5,000 years old. So far, the tree doesn’t have a name. Methuselah’s companion, “Prometheus,” was cut down in 1964 and may have been over 5,000 years old itself at the time of its death. And while Methuselah still lives, the new find easily takes its place as the oldest non-clonal organism known to exist.
There’s a reason that the trees in this region are particularly robust. Growing right below the tree line (above which the air is too thin for most foliage to live), the conditions in which these trees have made their home all these millennia are not terribly kind. Sparse rainfall, relatively low temperatures, and nearly constant winds combine to create a harsh environment. Also, due to their habitat, the wood of the bristlecone pine is very dense—making it difficult for insects and rot to take hold—and can remain intact for a very long time even after the tree has died.
There are some clonal colonies—those types of trees that reproduce asexually like fungi—that make even these ancient pines look like seedlings. One such fairly recent find, a spruce in Sweden, is estimated to be almost 10,000 years old. Previous clusters in the mountains of Sweden have been dated at around 8,000 years old.