The oldest trees in the world and their part in the climate crisis
The oldest trees known to scientists grew on today’s Axel Heiberg Island, in Canada’s Qikiqtaaluk region, about 45 million years ago. The planet’s current tree cover is 3 trillion of large plants occupying about 30% of the Earth’s surface. The area is increasing, although these are mainly shelterbelts (trees planted to protect crops and animals), temperate timber crops and eucalyptus and oilseed plantations. The declining part of the tree cover is, in turn, rich in terms of species old-growth forests, where seeds, litter, mycelium, plants and animals thrive. Old trees share nutrients with other organisms and are best at absorbing carbon dioxide.
Meanwhile, around 10 million hectares of forest are cut down each year – an area roughly the size of Portugal. In the last 6,000 years, humans have clear-cut about a third of all forests on Earth. According to a study by researchers at the Centre for Tree Science in Illinois, among other institutions, older trees play a key role in combating the climate crisis. Species such as Bristlecone Pine in California’s White Mountains act as massive carbon sequestration and storage facilities, while providing rich ecosystems for flora and fauna.
Probably the world’s oldest tree – an approximately 4,600-year-old Bristlecone Pine named “Methuselah” – is growing somewhere on the just over 7km-long Methuselah Trail in the Inyo National Forest in California. The location and photos of the pine were hidden to protect the tree from tourists. Bark beetles and the worst drought in 1,200 years are also posing a threat to “Methuselah” and other Bristlecone Pines in the area.