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Meet the Great-Grandfather – Is Chile’s Alerce Milenario the World’s Oldest Living Tree?

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » Ancient & Remarkable Trees » Meet the Great-Grandfather – Is Chile’s Alerce Milenario the World’s Oldest Living Tree?

In the lush expanse of Alerce Costero National Park in Chile, hidden in a quiet ravine, stands a living monument of nature’s resilience—the Alerce Milenario.

Known affectionately as the Gran Abuelo, or Great-Grandfather, this towering tree of the species Fitzroya cupressoides may very well be the oldest living tree on our planet.

This ancient giant, spanning over 13 feet across its majestic crown, tells a story that reaches back through millennia.

Alerce Milenario Crown

In 2007, scientists Jonathan Barichivich and Antonio Lara, from the Austral University of Chile, headed off on a delicate scientific expedition.

Their mission was not simple; they aimed to uncover the age of this monumental tree without causing it harm.

Using an increment borer, a T-shaped drill, they carefully extracted a narrow cylinder of wood from the tree.

This small sample revealed about 2,400 tightly spaced growth rings, a silent archive of centuries passed.

Alerce Milenario Base

But the story of Gran Abuelo’s age didn’t stop with these rings. The researchers turned to statistical modeling, comparing their findings to data from 2,400 other trees.

Their calculations led to a breathtaking revelation: the Alerce Milenario could be 5,484 years old, with a minimum age of 5,000 years confidently determined.

This age potentially makes it more than a century older than any other tree whose age has been recorded.

Despite its grandeur, only 28 percent of the Gran Abuelo remains alive, mainly within its roots.

The scientists warn that even a casual stroll nearby can disturb the fragile living remnants of this ancient being.

Over the years, much of the tree’s crown has fallen, and the trunk has partly died, yet it continues to cling to life, adorned with lichens and mosses that add to its character and mystery.

Alerce Milenario Trunk with Moss

The park itself, a protected area of 137 hectares situated at elevations up to 1,048 meters, welcomes around 10,000 visitors each year.

These guests come to marvel at a tree that has witnessed the passing of epochs, from the early whispers of human civilization to the bustling noise of the modern world.

As researchers like Ed Cook from Columbia University advocate, the true age of such an ancient tree can only be determined by counting all its growth rings, a task complicated by the tree’s vast size and the potential damage to its core.

The challenge is preserving while probing, respecting the very life history they seek to uncover.

In response to these findings, Chile’s National Forest Corporation has bolstered efforts to protect this venerable natural treasure.

More rangers have been assigned to its care, ensuring that the Alerce Milenario, and the stories it holds, will be preserved for generations to come.

The Gran Abuelo is more than just a tree; it symbolizes the enduring relationship between our history and the natural environment.

By examining its rings, we see the shared histories of humanity and the earth, highlighting nature’s lasting influence over time.

Digging Deeper

Location

Nestled in a secluded ravine within Alerce Costero National Park, Chile.

Alerce Costero National Park, Chile
Alerce Costero National Park, Chile

Type of Tree

The Alerce Milenario is a Fitzroya cupressoides, a species celebrated for its longevity and towering presence.

Is Alerce Milenario Still Alive?

Although only 28 percent of the Alerce Milenario is living, primarily in its roots, this ancient tree continues to thrive against the odds.

Descendants

Surrounding the Alerce Milenario are younger trees, likely its descendants, which share the same genetic blueprint.

Can You Visit It?

Visitors are welcomed to Alerce Costero National Park to view this monumental tree, which draws around 10,000 nature enthusiasts annually.

The base of Alerce Milenario

Conservation

In response to the tree’s venerable age, Chile’s National Forest Corporation has enhanced protective measures and increased the number of rangers dedicated to its preservation.

Legacy

The Alerce Milenario’s enduring presence offers a unique lens through which we can examine centuries of ecological and climatic shifts, cementing its role as a critical subject in dendrological studies.

Want More?

If the story of Alerce Milenario has captured your imagination, explore the captivating narratives of other extraordinary trees worldwide.

Admire the storied Lone Cypress in California, marvel at the robust Ombalantu baobab, be inspired by the Sycamore Gap tree, delve into the curious history of the Wyndham Prison Boab, and reflect on the resilient Survivor Tree in Oklahoma.

Sources – Wikipedia

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!