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Bristlecone pine ‘Methuselah’ may no longer be the oldest tree in the world

Scientists have discovered a new contender for the world’s oldest tree that could knock California’s ancient bristlecone pine from the top spot.

The state’s “Methuselah” bristlecone pine is believed to be one of the oldest living trees on Earth since its rings were counted in 1957. The tree, located high in the White Mountains of Inyo County near of Bishop, is estimated to be 4,853 years old.

However, Chilean researchers have recently identified a new challenger for the world’s oldest tree deep in a ravine in Chile’s Alerce Costero National Park.

The tree, nicknamed “Alerce Milenario” or “Gran Abuelo”, may be over 5,000 years old, according to a new report from Science magazine. Jonathan Barichivich, a Chilean scientist specializing in dendrochronology, and his colleague Antonio Lara announced their findings last month. Dendrochronology is the study of tracking the age of trees using growth rings.

In 1993, Lara and a colleague discovered an alerce tree stump in Chile that was over 3,622 years old, placing alerce trees above giant sequoias among the oldest trees in the world. In 2020, Lara and Barichivich returned to the forest to collect a sample from the Alerce Milenario.

The claim of the 5-millennium-old tree, however, may be met with skepticism by the scientific community, as estimating the age of the tree does not imply a total number of tree growth rings, according to Science.

Instead of taking a full core from the tree rings, Barichivich and Lara used an incremental driller to extract a narrow plug of wood from the tree. The partial wood sample from the tree showed about 2,400 growth rings.

Barichivich then compiled a statistical analysis to estimate the tree’s age range, according to Science. The model compiled comprehensive cores and environmental factors. According to Barichivich’s findings, which have yet to be published, the tree was estimated to be around 5,484 years old and had an 80% chance of being over 5,000 years old.




Los Angeles Times

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