A bald cypress tree in North Carolina has been dated to the year 605 BC, making it the oldest trees alive on earth. Though the fifth-oldest globally, it’s the oldest of its kind worldwide.
According to a recent study published in the Environmental Research Communications journal, scientists studying tree rings in North Carolina’s Black River swampland have discovered a bald cypress tree that’s at least 2,624 years old.
The discovery makes this tree one of the oldest non-clonal, sexually reproducing trees in the world. Clonal trees are vast colonies of genetically identical plants that grow from a single ancestor and can live for tens of thousands of years.
How old is 2,624 years, really? To borrow an analogy from the Charlotte Observer, this means the tree is older than Christianity, the Roman Empire and even the English language.
According to WECT 6 News, the Black River Preserve in North Carolina is home to North America’s oldest trees, east of California.
Purchased by the Nature Conservancy, Bladen County’s dark, quiet waters lead to a tree that’s not only the oldest cypress tree but the fifth-oldest tree in the world.
The oldest known living tree in the world is a Great Basin bristlecone pine in California that dates to over 5,066 years ago.
Lead researcher David Stahle, a professor of geosciences at the University of Arkansas, said:
“This is one of the great old-growth forests left in the world.”
“It is exceedingly unusual to see an old-growth stand of trees along the whole length of a river like this. Bald cypress are valuable for timber, and they have been heavily logged. Way less than 1 percent of the original virgin bald cypress forests have survived.”
Stahle is an expert in dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, and has been studying the Black River bald cypress since 1985. He previously recorded a 1,700-year-old tree in the same area.
Besides the science involved in dating trees, these ancient trees are a valuable resource in studying climate change in the area. Their rings provide a chronological road map that helps reconstruct extended periods of flooding and drought.
Stahle originally began dating the trees as part of a study on climate change in the region that revealed extended periods of drought hundreds of years ago.
Though these ancient trees live on protected land, their existence remains threatened by ongoing logging and biomass farming operations in the surrounding region, as well as by industrial pollution and climate change.
According to the study, the swamp is located at 6.5 feet (2 meters) above mean sea level and is at risk of being flooded by rising sea levels caused by anthropogenic global warming.