Could Chile be home to the world’s oldest tree?

A team of researchers discovered a tree in southern Chile that could be over 5,000 years old. If confirmed, this would shatter the current world record. But the researchers also worry that tourists’ carelessness endangers the tree.

In the lush green forests of southern Chile, ​​Alerce Costero National Park is believed to be home to the world’s oldest tree, which scientists dubbed the “great grandfather.” It could be over 5,000 years old. 

Determining the exact age is challenging because counting the tree’s rings is near impossible due to the size of its massive trunk, spanning 4m in diameter. 

According to Reuters, Jonathan Barichivich, the scientist who led the study, said research suggests the tree is up to 5,484 years old. “[The research] method tells us that 80 percent of all possible growth trajectories give us an age of this living tree greater than 5,000 years,” Barichivich said. He added that there is only a 20 percent chance the tree is any younger. 

Barichivich shared his concerns for preserving this possibly historic site. Currently, visitors leave the observation platform for the tree, step on the tree’s roots and even take pieces of its bark, which Barichivich fears is shortening the lifespan.

He urged visitors to “think for a fraction of a second about what it means to live 5,000 years,” and reflect upon their lives and the global climate crisis. 

The current world record is 4,853 years, held by a bristlecone pine tree called Methusalah in California’s White Mountains. According to Guinness World Records, it was found by Edmund Schulman and dated in 1957.

The Guardian recently reported on the significance of finding trees such as Methusalah, which evidence of the “physiological limits of life” on Earth.

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