Roughly 500 miles south of Santiago, the capitol of Chile, lies *Parque Nacional Alerce Costero* (Alerce Costero National Park). The common name ‘alerce’ is Spanish for larch, an endangered, tall conifer tree (*Fitzroya cupressoides*). The national park, comprised of 137 hectares (340 acres), is about five miles from the Pacific Ocean. Another protected area, *Reserva Costera Valdiviana* (costera/costero translates as ‘coastal’) is sandwiched between the coastline and the national park.
The alcera grow very large and very old, and that’s no exaggeration. The oldest one known, called “great grandfather”, was previously believed to be approximately 3,000 years old, but a recent study estimates it at over 50 centuries! That would make it the oldest living tree in the world, beating out a bristlecone pine tree in California known to be exactly 4,853 years old.
The diameter of “great grandfather’s” trunk is four meters (over 13 feet). The most exact way to determine the age of a tree is to count its rings, and on a live tree this is normally done by boring a cylinder in the trunk (similar to collecting an ice core, except the bore is horizontal, not vertical). This technique could not be used in this case because the bore drill bit is only a meter long – too short for the four meter diameter of this tree trunk. Instead other, less precise dating methods were employed to arrive at an estimated age of 5,484 years. Researchers concede there is a 20% chance the tree is less than 5,000 years old, but they have confidence in their higher estimate.
“Study suggests Chile could be home to world’s oldest tree” (0:47)