bristlecone pine

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The Ancient Ones:  Oldest Living Organisms on Earth

The trees of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, in the White Mountains near Bishop, California, are the oldest living recorded organisms on Earth. Many of the trees are over 2,000 years old, with the “Methuselah” tree dated at more than 4,773 years old. It was previously thought that this was the oldest tree in the world, but was superceded by the discovery of another bristlecone pine in the same area with an age of 5,063 years, giving it a germination date of 3051 BC.

These trees were young and growing at the time stone axes were being used in Europe, the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) was being built, and cuneiform clay tablets were being used in northern Syria.

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Clouds and the Milky Way rolling over the Bristlecone Pine Forest in California’s White Mountains. These trees are some of the longest-lived organisms on Earth.

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Bristlecone pines are the oldest trees on earth. The oldest, Methuselah, has lived more than 4,800 years.

From their perch atop the White Mountains at California’s eastern edge, the bristlecones have survived as entire human civilizations have arisen and disappeared.

But there’s a new threat to the bristlecone’s existence, a globe-spanning emanation more menacing than anything they've faced in thousands of years.

Learn more on KPCC’s AudioVision.

The Oldest Living Tree Tells All

How the felling of a bristlecone pine, in particular a tree almost as old as recorded human history, changed the way we look at conservation … with bonus science on how we date the oldest trees. Cool look at Prometheus and other bristlecones, whose locations are now kept secret to prevent vandalism, although who would do such a thing?!

The Prometheus tree’s felling made it doubly symbolic, as the myth of its namesake captures both the human hunger for knowledge and the unintended negative consequences that often result from this desire. Though members of the scientific community and press were outraged that the tree was killed, Currey’s mistake ultimately provided the impetus to establish Great Basin National Park to protect the bristlecones. The death of the Prometheus tree also helped to change our larger perception of trees as an infinitely replenishing resource. “It’s not going to happen again,” says Schoettle. “But it wasn’t something that I think they struggled with at the time, because it was just a tree, and the mindset was that trees were a renewable resource and they would grow back. And it didn’t seem like it was any particularly special tree.”

(via Collectors Weekly)

The variety of natural features and ecosystems found within Great Basin National Park in Nevada is surprising to many first time visitors. The Great Basin has often been called barren and uninteresting, but it doesn’t take long to discover that this rugged landscape – with its desert valleys and snow covered peaks – is more than meets the eye. Don’t forget to catch a sunset and see the ancient bristlecone pines. Photo by Thomas Sikora (www.sharetheexperience.org).

In this breathtaking image we are presented with a star sprinkled sky casting a dreamlike glow over Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

Aside from having some of the darkest night skies in the world, this area is famous for its 5,000 year old bristlecone pine trees, as well as the Lehman Caves at the base of Wheeler Peak, a 3,981 meters) mountain, named for George Wheeler, an explorer and cartographer who led expeditions in the west west from 1869 to 1871.

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Image by National Park Service

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4,800+ Year Old Tree

Prometheus was the oldest known non-clonal organism, a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine tree growing near the tree line on Wheeler Peak in eastern Nevada, United States. The tree, which was at least 4862 years old and possibly more than 5000, was cut down in 1964 by a graduate student and United States Forest Service personnel for research purposes. (Source)

Top Shot: Ye Olde Pine

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A Bristlecone Pine, a long-living species of tree, stands under the night sky in California’s Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Photograph by Ken Lee