The grand Angel Oak has stood watch on Johns Island off the coast of South Carolina for some 1,500 years. That makes it one of the oldest living things east of the Mississippi. At 66 feet tall with a 9-foot diameter trunk, this mammoth live oak may not be the most massive tree in existence, but its spectacular canopy is something to behold, offering over 17,000 square feet of shade. The Angel Oak is currently owned by the city of Charleston, but it faces environmental threats from a developer seeking to cut down the protective forest that surrounds it. The tree was named for the family that once owned the state, Justus and Martha Waight Angel, and is now the property of the City of Charleston. Local lore suggests that the ghosts of former slaves hover around the tree like angels. That the tree has survived so many natural disasters and plans for land development may prove that it has its own angels after all.
But some 80 years ago, when Charlie Underwood was looking to create a roadside attraction on his family’s property 175 miles north of San Francisco, he carved a car-sized, drive-thru hole in giant coast redwood. Dubbed the Chandelier Tree, this 2,400-year-old living giant remains an attraction in Northern California. For $5, tree-lovers can motor through the titanic trunk and picnic among the many other redwoods on the property, now a 200-acre park.We like to think this wouldn’t happen in today’s more conservation-minded world.
One of the most fascinating things about trees is how long some can live. Clonal colonies are known to endure for tens of thousands of years — Utah’s Pando aspen grove dates back 80,000 years — but many individual trees also stand their ground for centuries or millennia at a time. North America’s bristlecone pines are especially long-lived, and one in California that’s 4,848 years old (pictured above) was considered the planet’s oldest individual tree until 2013, when researchers announced they’d found a another bristlecone that sprouted 5,062 years ago. (The last woolly mammoths, for comparison, died about 4,000 years ago.)
To intelligent primates who are lucky to have 100 birthdays, the idea of a brainless plant living for 60 human lifetimes evokes a unique kind of respect. Yet even when a tree does finally die, it still plays a key role in its ecosystem. Dead wood has huge value for a forest, creating a slow, steady source of nitrogen as well as microhabitats for all kinds of animals. As much as 40 percent of woodland wildlife depends on dead trees, from fungi, lichens and mosses to insects, amphibians and birds.
The great basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) called Methuselah lives hidden in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the White Mountains in the Inyo National Forest, California. With an age of around 4,700 years, the forest service decided to keep the ancient organism’s location a secret to protect it from, you know, humans. The one pictured here could be Methuselah, or could be a relative from the same general area – it’s probably best if nobody ever knows.
4.Sunland Big Baobab
Baobab trees are a strange and familiar sight on the savannas of sub-Sahara Africa with their hulking trunks that seem to dwarf everything around them. One of the most unusual examples — believed to be the biggest and perhaps oldest in the world at an estimated 1,700 years old — is the Sunland Big Baobab. But this ancient mammoth located in South Africa on Sunland Farm is a popular tourist draw for more than just its size and seniority. Quite a few travelers also show up for happy hour. That’s right, there’s a pub and wine cellar built inside the tree’s hollow 33-foot-diameter trunk. Far from Hobbit-sized, this tree bar once accommodated 60 people during a party.
In Utah’s Fishlake National Forest, a grove of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) flutters and quivers; all 47,000 members of a single organism. The Trembling Giant is also known as Pando, Latin for “I spread.” This clonal colony is a marvel; all 47,000 trees are genetically identical and spring forth from a single root system, making it the most massive single organism known to man. (The largest single living organism is a giant carpet of fungal mats in Oregon, but Pando outweighs all other with its weight of more than 6,000 tonnes.) Spreading out over nearly 110 acres, it’s hard not to be in awe of this giant rustling being, imagine the sound alone. And then to really put things into perspective, consider this: Scientists estimate Pando to be anywhere from 80,000 to one million years old, making it one of the oldest, if not the oldest, living organism on the planet