There’s something majestic about the very oldest of trees and how they witnessed the rise and fall of numerous civilizations. Who hasn’t heard about General Sherman – the largest known living single stem tree in the world – or Old Tjikko – the Earth’s oldest (9,550 years) living individual clonal tree?
I find Julian Hight’s quote to be the most representative for this list: “Ancient trees are a living link to our past and they often provide a fragile constant in an ever-changing world. This is their story, but in equal measure it is also ours. Each tree has its own distinct shape and character which it carries through its lifetime.”
With this in mind, let’s learn more about some of the world’s most fascinating trees: not just the oldest ones, but the ones with a “distinct shape and character.” There are probably hundreds of spectacular trees, but the following ten really caught my attention:
10. Angel Oak
Located in South Carolina, on Johns Island, the 1,500 year-old Angel Oak shades with its widely spreading canopy an area of 17,200 square feet.
This magnificent tree is thought to be one of the oldest living organisms east of the Mississippi River. With a circumference of 28 feet and branches over 100 feet long, Angel Oak has survived numerous natural disasters, including earthquakes (the Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886), floods and hurricanes (Hurricane Hugo in 1989).
9. Elia Bouybon, Olive Tree of Vouves
Can you trust that the world’s oldest olive tree still produces tasty olives every year? Estimated by the scientists from the University of Crete to be between 3,500 and 4,000 years old, the Olive Tree of Vouves is 15 feet thick at the base.
The ancient olive tree is visited by approximately 20.000 people every year. It is located in the village of Ano Vouves, Crete.
8. Dragon’s Blood Tree
The rare Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari) is also known as the Socotra Dragon Tree in Yemen. It is arguably the most famous plant of the Yemeni island of Socotra. I wrote about this amazing place in Top 10 Unusual Landscapes. Unesco.org claims that “37% of Socotra’s 825 plant species, 90% of its reptile species and 95% of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world.”
The Dragon Tree resembles an umbrella. The tree’s name originates from its tendency to ooze a red sap, or resin. The local inhabitants still use the Dragon’s blood resin as a cure-all, in cosmetic products or to paint local pottery.
7. El Árbol del Tule, Tule Tree
This massive Tule Tree is a 116 feet high Montezuma cypress tree (Taxodium mucronatum) located in Oaxaca, Mexico. Each branch could itself be an independent tree.
The trunk’s circumference measures 119 feet. It is so large that scientists originally thought that multiple trunks fused together, but DNA tests proved otherwise. The Ahuehuete Tree of Santa María del Tule “is a single genetic individual” (Dorado, O., Avila, G. et al. – The Árbol del Tule, 1996).
6. Teapot Baobab
All eight species of Adansonia are spectacular. The African Baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) is native to mainland Africa, but can be found also in Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Six of these species are native to Madagascar – Grandidier’s Baobab (Adansonia grandidieri Baill), Madagascar Baobab (Adansonia madagascariensis Baill), Perrier’s Baobab (Adansonia perrieri Capuron), Fony Baobab (Adansonia rubrostipa Jum &H.Perrier), Suarez Baobab (Adansonia suarezensis H.Perrier), Za Baobab (Adansonia za Baill) – and one is endemic to Australia, the Australian Baobab (Adansonia gregorii F.Muell). The Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar remains one of the few places where most of these species can be observed in one place.
Interesting is how some Baobab trees take the form of bottles, even teapots. They are located in Ifaty, Madagascar. The above Teapot Baobab is 1,200 years old.
The Baobab can store more than 31,000 US gallons of water (120,000 liters) to endure the severe drought conditions.
5. The Trees from Ta Phrom
The trees growing out of the ruins of Ta Prohm, a Cambodian temple, are fascinating. There are two main species that predominate in Ta Prohm. Some specialists claim that the larger tree (see picture) is a Silk Cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra), others think that it’s a Thitpok (Tetrameles nudiflora). The smaller one seems to be a Strangler Fig tree. The giant tree roots attract thousands of visitors each year.
The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) is a long-living species that occurs in a relatively narrow latitudinal range in Utah, Nevada and California. This pine grows extremely slowly and, amazingly, the needles and leaves can remain green for over 40 years (Ewers & Schmid 1981).
Methuselah is the oldest living non-clonal organism on Earth. The pine was 4,789 years old when Tom Harlan and Edmund Schulman sampled it in 1957. The 4,843 year-old tree grows in California’s White Mountains, but its exact location has been undisclosed to prevent acts of vandalism.
3. Silk Floss Tree
The beautiful Silk Floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) is one of the many members of the mallow family. Endemic to tropical and subtropical forests of South America (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina etc.), this tree sometimes reaches more than 81 feet in height. Its trunk and branches are studded with sharp conical prickles (giant spines), which help it to conserve water for subsequent dry periods.
The beautiful red, pink or purple flowers measure four to six inches in diameter and are “followed by pear shaped capsules filled with many seeds embedded in silky white floss,” according to Floridata.com. This silk is sometimes collected and used to stuff cushions.
2. Rainbow Eucalyptus
The Rainbow Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) is a huge evergreen tree that can reach heights of 246 feet. The Rainbow Eucalyptus, also known as Mindanao Gum, has a geographic distribution that extends from the Indonesian archipelago to the Philippines. What make this tree so special are the striking stripes of yellow, green, pink, red, purple and orange on its branches and trunk. Believe it or not, these beautiful colors are an entirely natural feature. The Eucalyptus’ bark is smooth, “and as it grows, it exfoliates thin layers of spent tissue. This process occurs in irregular zones at different times. As the newly exposed bark slowly ages, it changes from bright green to a darker green, then bluish to purplish, and then pink-orange. Since this process is happening in different zones of the trunk and in different stages, simultaneously, the colors are varied and almost constantly changing. As a result, the tree will never have the same color pattern twice, making it like a work of living art,” said LariAnn Garner, a research botanist at Aroidia Research in Florida City.
1. Tree of Life
There are numerous examples of long-living clonal colonies of trees, but there’s something magnificent about a 400-year-old tree able to survive in the middle of the desert without any known source of water. The fact that it stands alone since centuries is mind-blowing. The ancient mesquite tree in Bahrain is considered a natural wonder. The Tree of Life is located about 2 km from Jebel Dukhan. To really appreciate the uniqueness of the mesquite, try to view it in Google Earth. You will see that it’s pretty far from any form of vegetation.