For many of us, having a beloved tree reach a ripe old age of 10, 20, or 30 years old is an exciting milestone, but some of the world's most famous old trees are often hundreds or thousands of years old. These ancient arbors are a rare connection to worlds that we’ve never seen and are pieces of living history that we can touch in the present day.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka
Located in a picturesque, sacred garden in Sri Lanka, the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi was planted in 249 B.C... as in 2,000 years ago and then some. What's more is that this tree was transplanted from the original bodhi tree where Siddhartha Gautama sat and achieved enlightenment, going on to inspire the name of Gautamas' lessons of Buddhism. In fact, thousands of Buddhists still make pilgrimages to the tree hoping that some time in its shade will lead to life-altering results!
General Sherman Sequoia
While once estimated to date back as far as 11,000 years, this sequoia tree was more recently dated at just over 2,500 years old, but it still holds multiple accolades. For starters, the General Sherman has the distinction of being the world's most voluminous tree: that's total height by total thickness of trunk. At 274.9 feet tall with a base circumference of 102.6 feet around, this tree is on a totally different scale than the saplings in your yard. The General Sherman makes us all kind of wonder if we're just tiny ants in a world meant for hundred-foot-tall people. In Sequoia National Park, Sherman stands alongside other enormously old trees in a group of some of the most impressively tall and wide trees you will ever lay eyes upon.
Major Oak from Sherwood Forest
Did you ever daydream about playing one of the merry men or Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor? The Major Oak is a millennium-old tree that supposedly served as a hiding place for the real Robin Hood in the middle of Sherwood Forest! One look at its thick trunk and wide branches certainly make a convincing case that the entire merry band could hide from sight in there. To maintain the oak's heavy limbs, steel poles have been added for posterity. This change might take away from the oak's storybook appeal, but it's better for the tree's overall health. While not one of the oldest or truly one of the biggest, this tree is exceptional simply because it's one of the oldest examples of a very common tree, the oak. To this day, it regularly wins titles like "England's Tree of the Year," and its storied past makes it a significant piece of arboreal history in our book.
Old Tjikko from Norway, and Other Oldest Clonal Trees
If you want to see the absolute oldest tree in the world, you first have to narrow the hunt between clonal (single organism that sends up multiple, genetically identical "trees," sometimes filling a whole grove) and non-clonal. Old Tjikko, for example, is a tall, spindly Norway Spruce located in Sweden that's been carbon dated to at least 9,500 years old. However, as one of the oldest clonal trees in the world, Tjikko's trunk is only a few hundred years old. Other clonal trees use a process called "layering" to regenerate without ever dying, including the Jurupa Oak in California. The oldest clonal tree colony in the world is a grove of quaking aspen in Utah, with a root system known as Pando. The plant also has one odd claim to fame: it's the single heaviest organism on earth, weighing in at around 6,000 tons.
El Arbol del Tule
By conservative estimates, the Tule Tree comes in at a young and spry 1,500-ish years old, but this Montezuma Cypress near Oaxaca, Mexico has the claim of having the widest trunk of any living tree: 137.8 feet! Its stout trunk is so unbelievably wide that at one point it was thought to have been multiple trees, growing so closely together that they'd fused. In recent years, the cypress has not only quelled controversy to maintain its status, it's also been heavily buttressed to maintain its massive frame. Even Cortez is said to have marveled at this tree's size, quite a boast given that when Cortez was present there were probably far more large Montezuma Cypress trees around to behold.
Old Hara and Methusela
These two bristlecone pines are in a forest where some of the oldest non-clonal trees alive live. Old Hara is just over 5,000 years old with Methusela right on its heels at 4,900. Rather than being enormous in width and height, the Great Basin bristlecone pines are rather unassuming. Their incredibly gnarled appearance and resilience are what set them apart. In older specimens like Hara and Methusela, the main growth layer often dies off, and a small strip of living tissue is all that connects the root system with the living branches. This delicate balance may explain why these intermountain bristlecone pines of Inyo National Forest aren't spoken of more, so they aren't targeted by tourists or harmed accidentally. Respect your elders!
Each of our planet's oldest trees offers a glimpse into the past while standing as a modern marvel. This group doesn't even scratch the surface of all the trees that stretch back millenia. Ancient trees exist on nearly every continent and take a variety of amazing and interesting forms. It's enough to make you wonder if the trees we plant today will be windows into our time for future generations to look back on in awe.