• Dan Connors

Three amazing tree stories- the ultimate survivors


The oldest known land animal currently is a 183 year old tortoise named Jonathan who lives in the South Atlantic. Most humans rarely make it past 100 years, and their pets are lucky to hit 20. The true survivors in nature are the trees, those silent carbon eaters who've made this planet inhabitable.


Probably the most well-known among the super survivors is the Ginkgo tree, aka Ginkgo biloba or Madenhair tree. Ginkgo trees are living fossils, meaning that they are relatively unchanged after 270 million years on earth. They are the last surviving species of their phylum, which means that no other living plant or tree is remotely close to them in evolutionary terms. They can live for 1,000 years and are revered in China, where they are still native.


Perhaps the most notable Ginkgo story of survival is the six trees that survived the atom bomb blast at Hiroshima, Japan. Where every living thing was incinerated at the blast site, these remarkable trees began growing again the following spring and still stand in Hiroshima today.


Ginkgo trees are now found worldwide because of their beauty and resilience, They are able to withstand a variety of temperature extremes, are resistant to bugs, and can handle urban pollution levels, making them popular with landscapers. Ginkgo trees are among the minority of trees that come in male and female versions (along with Cannibis and Willows). Each gender of tree produces either fruits or pollen, but never both, and male trees are favored by gardeners because of their sweeter smells.


In addition, Ginkgo extracts have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, with claims that they help with depression, memory loss, blood flow, and circulation. They've also been used to help with vision, asthma and as an aphrodisiac.


Flickr.com- from Methuselah grove

The oldest confirmed tree in existence is a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine Tree, which has been nicknamed "Methuselah". The tree can be found in eastern California, though its exact location is kept secret to prevent the wrong people from finding it and removing it. Methuselah is estimated to be 4,851 years old, which means that North America at that time was sparsely populated by native Americans and the wildlife that preceded white settlers. At that point the Egyptians hadn't begun building pyramids.


The amazing part about Methuselah's longevity is that it hasn't lived an easy, sheltered life. This tree grew up on a rocky mountain at high altitudes with sparse rainfall and little soil. Somehow it has adapted and survived longer than the most pampered plants on the planet.


Methuselah's reign as the oldest tree in the world ended recently when an older tree was found in the same general area thought to be over 5,000 years old. That tree has not been named nor is its location known.



Flickr.com Pando aspens

The most amazing tree survival story starts in Southern Utah over 80,000 years ago. One little seed resulted in the growth of the largest single living organism on earth. The Pando colony of white aspens is considered one single organism, united by an immense root system. It covers over 100 acres, has over 47,000 trees that are interlinked, and would weigh more than 55 blue whales.


While most trees emerge from a single germinated seed, aspens are able to grow underground and send up clones- identical trees that emerge from the same root system. It's an amazing adaptation that's outlasted all living things on the planet and the previous ice age.


The Pando colony is under attack today and may be dying after 80,000 years of survival against the odds. The chief culprit may be cattle herds that have been overgrazing around the aspens, starving them of food and killing new shoots. Climate change is also affecting all plant life in Utah and beyond, and it remains to be seen if steps can be taken to stop the steady decline of this clonal system.


So what can we take away from these three stories? Trees are one of the only things on earth that outnumber and outlive mankind. Without them and other plant life, our atmosphere would deadly. These trees are survivors because they expect hardship and they thrive because of it. Mankind is their biggest threat, but hopefully that will change as the world gets smaller and more interdependent.


Ginkgo trees have well-protected cell networks deep inside of their bark. The outer level of protection shields it from the worst that man and nature can dish out. When the worst happens, they are ready for it. The same can be said of the Pando trees- their huge network of roots underground are well-protected from the elements and the animals that can kill them. Individual trees can be felled, but the organism lives on. As for Methuselah, it's just a testament to being at the right time and right place with the right equipment. Even in a barely survivable environment like a mountain, the Bristlecone Pines have endured.


Hard times come and go for mankind, too. Those who are the best survivors expect that things will go wrong, and prepare for it. They fall back, regroup, and figure out new ways to grow.


"Learn character from trees, values from roots, and change from leaves," Tasneem Hameed.


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