Ever since I first read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator as a bedtime story to my daughter nearly two decades ago, I’ve always thought of the Bristlecone Pine that grows somewhere in Nevada as the oldest tree in the world. In the story, Willy Wonka tells the boy Charlie that the oldest living thing in the world is this pine tree. Willy Wonka says the tree is more than 4,000 years old, but Wikipedia shows a photograph of a suitably gnarled tree and states it is actually 5,065 years old.
Of course there are other contenders like the magnificent Hundred Horse chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli) in Sicily, reputedly 2-4,000 years old, and other Bristlecone pines from the same forest. Apparently there is yet another that is claimed to be (an impossible-sounding) one million years old. This is the Pando, in Utah, a collective of aspen tree trunks, all genetically linked by a common root system that has apparently survived a million years.
To me, this sounds like cheating, even if the root system’s age is impressive by any standards. Not to be outdone, the magazine Nature published an article in 2003 that claims the gingko tree is a living fossil. Recent finds show that gingko species have remained unchanged for the past 51 million years and show remarkable similarity to species that lived during the Jurassic period, hobnobbing with dinosaurs, 170 million years ago.
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