It is more than 5,400 years old. It is called ‘The Great Grandfather’. It is the oldest tree on Earth. At least, on record. It rises above a wooded ravine in Chile. A recent digital model was made of its history. The oldest tree on Earth sprouted at the same time that the mythical Neolithic site of Stonehenge was coming into use.
Calculating its age
‘Great Grandfather’ belongs to the tree species Fitzroya cupressoides. How exactly to calculate its age without counting its rings? With a computational model. From this algorithm, it is thought that this Patagonian larch has lived for at least 5 millennia. This species is characterized by huge trees. In fact, it is the tallest native tree in southern America. Ancestrally, the native communities of Argentina and Chile know it as lahuán. After 5,400 years, it is rooted in the current Coastal Alerce National Park, created in Chile 12 years ago as a natural reserve.
With all of the above, the team of scientists that calculated its age recognizes that this figure is only an approximation. The only method to know how old it really is is dendrochronology. According to the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, it is the “scientific discipline that studies the environmental changes registered in the annual growth rings of trees”.
In all the years it has been on the planet, ‘Big Grandpa’ has never been so deteriorated. Jonathan Barichivich, climate scientist at the Laboratoire des Sciences Environnementales et du Climat in Paris says the poor condition of Earth’s oldest tree is largely due to the tourism it attracts to the ecological reserve:
“Whatever its age, the tree is in danger and needs to be protected,” the researcher denounces. He designed the model that calculates its real age. “It’s really in poor condition because of tourism.”
Nor do global temperature rises contribute to ‘Great Grandpa’s’ well-being. On the contrary, according to Barichivich’s model calculations, the stable growth rate it had enjoyed for thousands of years has been altered. The team also attributes this change to the intense contact the tree has with the tourism it attracts to the ecological reserve.
Seen in this light, the world’s oldest tree also suffers from the indiscriminate advance of human activity – and yet another victim of the climate crisis.