Fast Facts, Trees

Oldest Tree (Roots) on Earth

Old Tjikko, a Norway spruce in Sweden, long held claim to being the oldest tree on Earth, until humans got nitpicky. Which humans are wont to do.

The root system of Old Tjikko is 9,562 years old. Since the ice age ended 11,500 years ago, this is about as old as a tree on earth can be.

But here’s the nitpicky part.

While the root system is indeed the oldest on earth, the tree trunk has regenerated itself through vegetative cloning. Also, branches pushed down by heavy winter snows, have rooted themselves into the earth and sprouted new ones in a process known as layering. Both methods have kept the above ground part of the tree growing millennia after millennia, refreshing itself every 600 years or so. But those roots? Those roots are the same ones that wound their way into the boreal forest a mere two thousand years after the ice began to recede.

The tree itself is perhaps less magnificent than one might expect of something so ancient. Because it grows in a harsh climate, Old Tjikko exhibits the stunted growth habit known as krummholz formation.

Indeed, it wasn’t until global warming in the 20th century that Old Tjikko transformed itself into a semblance of the sort of tree we are used to seeing.

The spruce tree was discovered by Leif Kullman, a professor of Physical Geography at Umea University. The professor gave the tree its moniker “Old Tjikko” in honour of his dog who had passed away.

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