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More than a thousand years before the oldest sequoia was a seedling, Alerce Milenario grew in mist and humidity, deep in a ravine in the coastal mountains of Chile.

It kept its mossy location a secret for over 5,000 years until it reached 200 feet into the sky, supported by a trunk 13 feet in diameter. And then, 50 years ago, a ranger spotted the Patagonian cypress.

Its exact age can probably only be determined by taking a carrot and counting its seasoned rings under a microscope. Park rangers don’t want to disturb the ancient tree. Most of the tree is already dead, and its living part rests on a fragile root system that human foot traffic could kill.

Instead of ring cores, tree scientists used statistical modeling, using cores from other nearby alerces. They think the tree is 5,484 years old.

That would put it well ahead of California’s oldest redwoods, which reach an age of over 3,600 years.

If correct, the alerce would be even older than the gnarled Methuselah tree of California’s White Mountains. This ancient bristlecone pine sprouted 4,800 years ago before the construction of the Egyptian pyramids. As with all ancients, its exact location is kept secret to protect it from sympathizers and modern vandals.

Bristlecone pines are believed to be the oldest living individual organisms and now live on federal protected land.

Methuselah has contemporaries who are still living today. There’s Sarv-e Abarkuh, a huge cypress tree in Iran, and the Llangernyw Yew in Wales, both 4,000 to 5,000 years old.

If you consider tree root systems and not trunk age, none of these ancients come close to Utah’s 100 acres of trembling aspen, called Pando. The 47,000 trees in Pando are stems growing from a single root system, which is certainly tens of thousands of years old.

In Sweden, Old Tjikko, just 16 feet tall, has a root system believed to be 9,500 years old, although the trunk is only a few hundred years old, according to Science magazine.


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