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Methuselah, a Bristlecone Pine is Thought to be the Oldest Living Organism on Earth

Posted by Robert Hudson Westover, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Forest Service in Forestry
Jun 29, 2022
The Inyo National Forest is home to many bristlecone pines, thought to be the oldest living organisms on Earth.
The Inyo National Forest is home to many bristlecone pines, thought to be the oldest living organisms on Earth.

Bristlecone pines are a small group of trees that reach an age believed by many scientists to be far greater than that of any other living organism known to man -- up to nearly 5,000 years.

The oldest of these near prehistoric pines is a tree nicknamed Methuselah (after Methuselah, the longest-lived person in the Bible). Methuselah is located in the Inyo National Forest and sits in a remote area between California's Sierra Nevada range and the Nevada border.

To protect the oldest of all living things from vandalism, Methuselah precise location is undisclosed by the U.S. Forest Service. Over 4,789 years old, the age of Methuselah was determined by the measurement of core samples taken in 1957.

The storied bristlecone pines grow in isolated groves at and just below the tree line in mountainous regions of California, Nevada and Colorado. These hardy trees thrive on adversity, living in harsh conditions and high elevation (about 10,000 feet) where little else survives.

Fighting the elements for millennia, bristlecone pines have been exposed to extreme cold temperatures, dry soils, high winds, and short growing seasons. Being in a category known to many scientists as extremeophiles the trees grow very slowly.

Bristlecone wood is very dense and resinous, and thus resistant to invasion by insects, fungi and other potential pests. In very old specimens, often only a narrow strip of living tissue connects the roots to a handful of live branches.

Category/Topic: Forestry

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Comments

bfrank
Apr 22, 2011

Thanks Erik!

Larry Edwards
Oct 11, 2011

"...believed by many scientists...." This statement says not all scientists believe Bristle Cones to be the oldest living organisms, which begs the question, "what do other scientists believe"? Or are you just being "politically" correct and trying not to offend the young Earth folks?

Jeff Stone
Mar 02, 2016

Is North America the only location where these trees have been found? Who first discovered them, and how do we know about the tree's characteristics? Is there anything else to know about these trees, or is this article all that exists?

I'm strongly for environmental sustainability, and the way the world is going, we need to stop trashing our earth, its atmosphere, and its water. However, if we do not survive as a species, rest assured things as this amazing tree likely will. The question remains, who will b around to appreciate it?

Conner McCloud
Jun 13, 2017

"The question remains, who will b around to appreciate it?"

I will be.

David lee
Apr 02, 2019

so what is the name of the 5000 year old tree?

Ben Weaver
Apr 02, 2019

@David lee - thank you for your comment. The name of the 5,000 year old tree is Methuselah.

Joe Zaccaria
Nov 18, 2020

Is the age of a Bristlecone Pine determined by counting growth rings or other methods?

Katherine
Jan 18, 2021

Can Bristlecone pines live in other places, say the American South, for example? Or do they require dry, colder climates?

Virginia
Nov 28, 2021

We lived in bishop for a while and never knew about those trees now we in Tucson disappointed we didn't go to to that park

Charlsey Nord
Nov 28, 2021

Your paper was very helpful in our understanding of these wonderful trees. We are grateful for the funding of the US Forest Service and the protection it provides.

Tammy Alderman
Dec 11, 2021

Is the Methuselah tree still considered possibly the oldest living organism on Earth or are there now found to be older bristlecone pines, or other organisms that might be older? And where can one visit such biological organisms that are not necessarily as old as Methuselah but who share in its grandeur?

Ben Weaver
Dec 15, 2021

@Tammy Alderman - thank you for your comment. Thanks to our Forest Service researchers and forest health managers, we found that Methuselah may have some competition.

The ancient Great Basin bristlecone pine tree named “Methuselah” has been touted as the oldest identified living non-clonal organism on Earth yet it has always been suspected that an older Great Basin bristlecone pine tree may still be alive out there. Recently a tree in the same area of the White Mountains of California, on the Inyo National Forest, was aged to be more than 5,000 years old, so it may now take the title.

While the exact location of these old champions is a secret to protect them, you can walk among the majestic Great Basin bristlecone pine trees on moderate trails in the White Mountains of California along Schulman Grove on the Inyo National Forest and along an interpretive trail in Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) was distinguished as a separate species from Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (P. aristata) in 1970. Rocky Mountain bristlecone pines grow in Colorado and New Mexico and a small disjunct population in northern Arizona. The Rocky Mountain species also can be very long-lived, reaching ages of more than 2,500 years and develop artistic forms as they age. A trail in the Mount Evans Recreation Area in Colorado offers a place to stroll among the ancient trees. Portions of this trail are wheelchair accessible.

There are many organisms not necessarily as old as Methuselah in the world. In the U.S. giant sequoias are some of the oldest organisms with long lives. They are found in mixed conifer forests on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California. You can visit the largest surviving giant sequoia groves, including the Giant Sequoia National Monument and Sequoia National Forest in east-central California, which has more than three dozen groves of the big trees that grow primarily between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. Sequoias also are found in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Yosemite National Park.

To whet your appetite to visit the great outdoors, revisit one of our favorite blogs written several years ago by the daughter of a Forest Service employee, who visited the oldest, biggest and tallest trees on a family journey they dubbed the “Tree-fecta.”

You, too, can design your own family’s unique way of looking at some of the greatest natural resources this our nation has to offer.

Allan Tweddle BSE MBA
Dec 30, 2021

It is paramount that we save these marvelous trees. I’m an 89 year young senior on just SSI so cannot donate to anything. But I will spread the word.

Michael murphy
Jan 06, 2022

What a wonderful world.

Jack Breidenstein, Bass Lake , CA
Apr 03, 2022

My wife and I visited the forest of the Bristlecone Pines south of Bishop California several years ago. They were just building a new interpretive Center because the old one had burned down. We made the loop walk and were in awe of the beauties on that Mountainside. Everyone the loves the outdoor and Mother Nature should experience that for themselves. Thank you u.s. Forest Service for a magnificent site.

Mike Nelson
Jun 23, 2022

Thank you for spreading the knowledge on bristlecone pines. Highest respects to those who hold the secret of Methysula’s location.

Eric
Jun 28, 2022

There are two dead links on this page.

Ben Weaver
Jun 29, 2022

@Eric - thank you for your comment. We updated one link and removed the other link.