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Could This Tree Be 5,000 Years Old?

A scientist says a tree in Chile may be the oldest tree in the world!

Dr. Jonathan Barichivich

Scientists say a cypress tree in Chile might be the oldest tree in the world. They calculate that the tree is more than 5,000 years old!

Known as Great Grandfather, the Patagonian cypress tree (also called an alerce) is located in Chile’s Alerce Costero National Park. Dr. Jonathan Barichivich, a scientist from Chile who lives in France, first tried to estimate the tree’s age by taking a small sample of wood from its trunk. This method usually allows experts to tell how old a tree is by showing how many rings the tree has. But the sample Barichivich got did not capture all of the tree’s rings because its trunk is just too wide! So Barichivich used a computer to compare the tree to some other very old trees whose ages are known. He estimates that Great Grandfather is up to 5,484 years old. Barichivich adds that, according to his research, there is only a 20 percent chance that the tree is less than 5,000 years old. 

Until now, experts believed that Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree in California, was the oldest tree on the planet. Methuselah’s age has been calculated at 4,853 years old. If Barichivich is correct, it would mean that Great Grandfather could be more than 500 years older than Methuselah!

But while the tree has survived for thousands of years, scientists say it faces threats now. Climate change is making the area where the tree is located drier, causing harm to the tree. Plus, Great Grandfather attracts visitors who step on its roots and strip away pieces of its bark. The locations of many other ancient trees, including Methuselah, have been hidden from the public so that no one will damage them.

Great Grandfather has had quite a past. Barichivich wants it to have a future, too.

What Great Grandfather Lived Through

  • 2575-2465 BCE:


    The pyramids of Giza are built in ancient Egypt.

  • About 70 CE:

    The ancient Romans build the Colosseum.

  • About 1021 CE:


    Vikings explore what’s now Canada.

  • 1876 CE:

    The telephone is invented.

  • 1993 CE:


    The first Internet browser becomes available.

Telephone – Images Plus; Colosseum – © Sborisov/; Viking – © Nejron/; Web browser – © David Sailors—Corbis Documentary/Getty Images; Pyramids – © sculpies/

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Fun Fact

Illustration comparing the heights of a man, an elephant, a maple tree, the Statue of Liberty, and Hyperion
© kickstand, drbimages, Kerrick, Nikada, Sieboldianus—E+/Getty Images, © Matt Anderson Photography—Moment/Getty Images; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The tallest known tree in the world is Hyperion, a redwood tree in California’s Redwood National Park. Hyperion is more than 380 feet (116 meters) tall!

What Can Tree Rings Show Us?

Diagram of tree rings with labels showing how fire and sunlight affected the rings
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

A tree’s trunk expands from the center by growing a new layer each year. If a tree is cut, these layers appear as rings, which means we can tell how old a tree is by counting the rings.

Here’s what else rings can tell us:

  • In a year with plenty of rain and sunshine, a tree will grow faster, so the ring for that year will be thick. In a dry year, the tree will grow more slowly and the ring will be thinner.

  • The rings in a tree’s trunk are thicker on the side of the tree that gets the most sunlight.

  • Dark coloration on rings means slow summer growth. Light coloration means fast spring growth.

  • Some tree rings, even those deep within a tree’s trunk, show scars from forest fires.

Jolly Green Giants

© becon—iStock/Getty Images Plus

What’s the tallest kind of tree?

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Word of the Day


Part of speech:



: a bush or tree (such as a pine) that produces cones and that usually has leaves that are green all year

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It’s a forest of trees! How many can you find?


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