The oldest known tree in eastern North America

Scientists say a bald cypress tree in the North Carolina wetlands is at least 2,624 years old.

Researchers have documented a stand of ancient bald cypress trees which are over 2,000 years old in the forested wetlands of North Carolina.

The scientists estimate that one of the trees is at least 2,624 years old, making it the oldest known living tree in eastern North America.

The research team discovered the stand of bald cypress trees in 2017 in a wetland preserve along the Black River south of Raleigh, North Carolina. They documented the age of the trees using dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, and radiocarbon dating. The researchers analyzed non-destructive core samples from 110 trees from a section of the wetland forest they hadn’t visited before. University of Arkansas geoscientist David Stahle led the study, which was published May 9, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Communications. Stahle said in a statement:

The area of old growth bald cypress was 10 times larger than I realized. We think there are older trees out there still.

large tree with very wide conical base standing in yellow-brown water.

Wetland forest with bald cypress. Image via © PiLensPhoto/Adobe Stock.

The ancient trees are part of an intact ecosystem that spans most of the 65-mile length of the Black River. Stahle said:

It is exceedingly unusual to see an old-growth stand of trees along the whole length of a river like this. Bald cypress are valuable for timber and they have been heavily logged. Way less than 1 percent of the original virgin bald cypress forests have survived.

The scientists say that these ancient trees are a valuable means of reconstructing ancient climate conditions. The oldest trees in the preserve extend the paleoclimate record in the southeast United States by 900 years, and show evidence of droughts and flooding during colonial and pre-colonial times that exceed any measured in modern times.

The researchers say the bald cypress are oldest known living trees in eastern North America and the oldest known wetland tree species in the world. As for the oldest known living tree in the whole of North America, that honor goes to a bristlecone pine tree in California, estimated at over 4,800 years old.

A man standing ankle-deep in brown water in a wetland grove of trees.

David Stahle in North Carolina’s Black River. Image via Dan Griffin.

Bottom line: Researchers have documented what they say is the oldest known living tree in eastern North America, a bald cypress discovered in a North Carolina wetland forest.

Source: Longevity, climate sensitivity, and conservation status of wetland trees at Black River, North Carolina

Via University of Arkansas

Eleanor Imster