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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
Feb 21, 2017

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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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?

Jan 18, 2021

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