SciSun: Older than dirt. Almost.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about Evergreen trees, and how they remain green all year while other trees lose their leaves during the winter. But how about some evergreens that not only stay green all year, but have been green for many years – like 5,000 years! The Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) is the oldest living thing on the planet, with some individual trees confirmed as living over 4,600 years, and others suspected of living 5,000 years or more – that’s a long time ago. No, not as far back as the dinosaurs, or even as far back as mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers, but it is so far back that the most well-known civilization was in Egypt, and the only part of the world that had been explored was a small part of Africa and Europe. There were people living in other places, but most of them didn’t take the time to build large cities and create writing like the Egyptians did.

You’d think that in order for something to live this long, it has to have a pretty easy life. Lots of water, sunlight, food, not too hot or too cold, basically just hanging out. But the Bristlecone is not just old, it’s tough, too. They only live in some of the most difficult mountains and deserts of Nevada and California. There is little food; the temperature can change from burning hot to freezing cold in just a few hours; and harsh winds blow almost all the time. Not a nice place for humans, or most animals, or most other plants for that matter, but the Bristlecones seem to like it.

Bristlecone Pine grove, White Mountains Nvada

I'd like to see you look this good when you're this old!

There aren’t many Bristlecones, and considering the difficult conditions they live in, some scientists think there were never that many of the trees. Luckily, most of the places they live in are now protected so the trees won’t be harmed by people who might think it’s fun to cut one down or push one over or otherwise cause damage. In fact, some of these trees are considered so rare and precious only scientists know where to find them. But, protected from people or not, the Bristlecone still has to live in the harsh weather and rough climate. Just like they have for years, and years, and years, and years.

Dig Deeper!

There are lots of great places to learn more about Bristlecone Pines. Here are a few to get you started:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/methuselah/long.html

http://www.nps.gov/grba/planyourvisit/identifying-bristlecone-pines.htm#CP_JUMP_63561

And always check out your local library!


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