There are oh so many reasons why we should thank our lucky stars for the trees that we share this planet with. They are the gentle giants who seem to have gotten the short end of the stick, so to speak. Stuck in their place without voice or arms, they are helplessly subjected to human folly – the poor things. They are generally afforded with few rights and a general lack of deep respect by many, yet meanwhile, we are so incredibly reliant on their existence: they pump out the oxygen we need to live and they absorb carbon dioxide; they remove pollution; the cool and provide shade; they create food, control erosion, the list goes on and on and on. So with that in mind, we thought we’d give a shout-out to a handful of remarkable trees we have in our midst.
1. Methuselah: World’s oldest tree
Considered the world’s oldest tree, the ancient bristlecone pine named Methuselah lives at 10,000 feet above sea level in the Inyo National Forest, California. Hidden amongst its family in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the White Mountains, Methuselah is somewhere around 5,000 years old. For its protection, the location is kept a secret by the forest service – which means that nobody is exactly sure what Methuselah looks like, but the ancient bristlecone pine pictured above could be it. Then again, maybe not. It’s a mysterious Methuselah.
2. Hyperion: Tallest living tree
The tallest living tree is a towering 379.1-foot coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) discovered by Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor in California’s Redwood National Park in 2006. Hyperion is a trooper; it survives on a hillside, rather than the more-typical alluvial flat, with 96 percent of the surrounding area having been logged of its original coast redwood growth. The tree-discovering duo had earlier found two other coast redwoods in the same park – Helios (376.3 feet) and Icarus (371.2 feet) – which both also beat the previous record held by Stratosphere Giant.
And how cool is this? Watch a forest canopy scientist climb Hyperion to get the official measurement in the video below.
3. General Sherman: Largest living tree
How do you say majestic? How about “the General Sherman Tree.” This hulking grand dame in California’s Sequoia National Park is the largest, by volume, known living single stem tree in the world. This giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is neither the tallest known living tree, nor is it the widest or oldest – but with its height of 275 feet, diameter of 25 feet and estimated bole volume of 52,513 cubic feet, it’s the most voluminous. And with a respectable age of 2,300–2,700 years, it is one of the longest-lived of all trees on the planet to boot.
4. Jomon Sugi: Largest conifer in Japan
With a height of 83 feet and a 53-foot girth, Jomon Sugi is the largest conifer in Japan. This Cryptomeria japonica grows in a foggy, old-growth forest at an elevation of 4,200 feet on the north face of the tallest mountain on Yakushima island. Estimates age the trees to be between 2,170 and 7,200 years old, based on sample analysis and size. Visitors can hike to see Jomon, but the trek takes four to five hours each way; which doesn’t seem to keep people away from making pilgrimage to this old moody beauty.
5. Pando: Oldest living organism on the planet
Pando (Latin for “I spread”) is not a single tree, but rather a clonal colony of Quaking Aspen; and with an age of 80,000 years, it is oldest living organism in the world. Residing in Utah and nicknamed the “trembling giant,” this 105-acre colony is made of genetically identical trees connected by a single root system. Remarkably, by some estimates, the woodland could be as old as 1 million years, predating the earliest Homo sapiens by 800,000 years. Pando holds another impressive record as well: at 6,615 tons, it is also the heaviest living organism on earth.
For more on this extraordinary being, see: This 80,000-year-old aspen grove clones itself.
6. El Arbol del Tule: Greatest girth
While the Tree of the Hundred Horses holds the record for the tree with the greatest girth historically, the tree which holds the current record is known as El Arbol del Tule, which lives inside a gated churchyard in the town of Santa Maria del Tule in Oaxaca, Mexico. This Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) measures around the circumference at 119 feet, with a height of only 37 feet, what a squat cutie! To get a sense of the girth, it would take 10 mid-size cars placed end-to-end to circle del Tule.
7. The Tree of the Hundred Horses: Largest, oldest chestnut
Located on the eastern slope of Mount Etna in Sicily, the Hundred Horse Chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli) is not only the largest, but also the oldest, known chestnut tree in the world. The Sweet Chestnut is thought to be anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 years old, with the further end of the range coming in from botanist Bruno Peyronel. This giant beauty holds the Guinness World Record for “Greatest Tree Girth Ever,” with a circumference of 190 feet when it was measured in 1780, but since it has separated into three parts, it no longer holds the record as current. The tree got its name from a legend in which a queen of Aragon and her company of one hundred knights took refuge under its protective boughs during a thunderstorm.
8. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi: Most sacred
While it could be argued that all trees should be considered sacred, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi truly is. This sacred fig tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka is said to be the southern branch of the historical Bodhi tree in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was planted in 288 BC, and is thus the oldest living tree planted by humans in the world. It is considered one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and is adored and visited by Buddhists all over the world.
9. Old Tjikko: 9550 years old!
At a mere 16 feet in stature, this Norway spruce on Fulufjället Mountains in Sweden may not seem that impressive on first glimpse, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Old Tjikko is 9,550 years old. It is not the oldest tree on the planet per se, but it is the oldest single-stemmed clonal tree – meaning that while the trunk may have died off here and there, the same roots have endured for all this time. For millennia the brutal tundra climate kept Old Tjikko and its neighbors in shrub form, but as the weather was warmed, the bush has sprouted into a full-blown tree.
10. Endicott pear: Oldest US living fruit tree cultivated by Europeans
In 1630, an English Puritan named John Endicott – serving as the premier governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – planted one of the first cultivated fruit trees in America. Upon planting the pear sapling imported from across the pond, Endicott proclaimed, “I hope the tree will love the soil of the old world and no doubt when we have gone the tree will still be alive.” Indeed, 385 years later, the tree lays claim to the title of oldest living cultivated fruit tree in North America … and still offers its pears to passers-by.