New Year of the Trees

English: Dried fruit and nuts on a platter, tr...
Dried fruit and nuts on a platter for Tu B’Shevat.

In Israel’s winter I saw how seasons are not as discrete as in New York.  There were tangerines from the prior year and cherry blossoms from the new year on trees, in the same month.  In Jewish tradition there was a need to divide the fruits of one year from that of another in order to calculate tithes on produce and to calculate the age of trees that could not be harvested before 3 years.  So Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of the Jewish month of Shevat was chosen as the beginning of the new agricultural year, a time when most of the rain had fallen and fruit had begun to form. Over time, the holiday offered a way to renew our connection to the land.  In contemporary Israel the day is celebrated as a combination Arbor Day and ecological awareness day when trees are planted, while fruits and nuts from trees are eaten. In 2014, Tu B’shevat will start at sunset on  January 15 and will end at nightfall on January 16. It is also called “Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot” ( ראש השנה לאילנות‎), literally “New Year of the Trees.”

For Tu B’shevat I have chosen to celebrate amazing trees are often older than written history or are otherwise awe inspiring. I usually post a selection of trees on Facebook,  Here are a few of my favorites:
Pando in Autumn
Pando in Autumn (Wikipedia)

Pando looks like a large grove of trees but is the largest tree in the world, a 100 acre male quaking aspen with a single rootmass. Also known as The Trembling Giant, the clonal colony located near Fish Lake, Utah, is a single  quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides.) It was determined to be a single living organism by identical genetic markers and one massive underground root system. The plant is estimated to weigh collectively 6,000,000 kg, making it the heaviest known organism. The root system of Pando, at an estimated 80,000 years old (but possibly 1 million years old), is among the oldest known living organisms.  The stems of Pando appear to be trunks of individual trees.

There are other contenders for the largest or older organism including an Armillaria fungus in Oregon, the ancient clonal Creosote bushes in the Mohave desert in California or a sole remant  of  a clonal Norway Spruce colony in Sweden.  Pando is the largest and possibly oldest tree colony although it is very difficult to estimate the age of a clonal colony.
Trees are not easy to date while live.  Clonal trees are much harder to date than single trees because there is no single set of rings to count.  You can count the largest stem rings but in many cases as climates have changed then all the stems may have burned down but the root mass allowed the tree to regrow before competition or when it is too dry to sprout from seed. Some species may allow core drills while others may die with that intervention.  If there are similar trees, the girth of a dead tree of the same species may allow an informed estimate when rings are counted.
Methuselah the second-oldest living bristlecone pine
Methuselah the second-oldest living bristlecone pine

Methuselah at 4847 is the third  oldest verified single tree, a bristlecone pine, Pinus longeava, which grows in the “Methuselah Grove” in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest within the Inyo National Forest in California.  Methuselah’s exact location is undisclosed to protect it from vandalism.  Methuselah was the oldest known tree in the grove when Prometheus, a tree that dated to  2880 BC was cut down in 1964 and found to be older.  Methuselah is estimated at dating to 2832 BC.  However last year the core of a 5263 year old bristle cone pine was formally dated but unnamed. The picture is not confirmed in order to protect the tree’s identity. The oldest known Alcerce or Fitzroya cupressoides from the Chilean Andes is 3640 years old.  This is probably the second longest lived conifer after the bristlecone pine, just before giant Sequoias.

General Sherman Sequoia 2500 years
General Sherman Sequoia 2500 years

The oldest Giant Sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum, range from 3035 to 3259 years old. These grow in California’s Sequoia National Park. They are older than giant Redwoods which they resemble. The President is perhaps the oldest of the trees although the General Sherman is better known. The oldest specimens are generally not identified for their protection, a sad but necessary protection.

Sarv-e Abarqu Cypress in Iran
Jomon Sugi a Japanese Cryptomeria tree between 2000-5000 years
Jomon Sugi a Japanese Cryptomeria tree between 2000-5000 years

Europe, Japan and Iran have a number of trees that are believed but not proven to be as old.  The Llangernyw Yew in Wales is suggested as the third oldest nonclonal tree in the 4000 year range. Growing in a small churchyard of St. Dygain’s Church in Llangernyw village, north Wales, the Llangernyw Yew was planted sometime in the prehistoric Bronze Age. In 2002 the tree was designated as one of 50 Great British trees by the Tree Council.  The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is the oldest yew in England and rivals the age claims. Sarv-e Abarqu, also called the “Zoroastrian Sarv,” is a cypress tree in Yazd province, Iran. The tree is estimated to be at least 4,000 years old, is an Iranian national monument and is protected by the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran..  Many believe it to be the oldest tree in Asia. Jōmon Sugi, located in Yakushima, Japan, is the oldest and largest cryptomeria tree on the island and has estimated ages between 2000 and 5000 years in age. While it is difficult to date a living tree, it is one of the older trees in Asia and possibly the world. The oldest chestnut tree is the Castagna dei cento cavalli that is located on Mt. Etna in Sicily.  The name alludes to a battalion of 100 horsemen, soldiers who all were able to shelter under the tree. The tree benefits from rich volcanic soil but has not been hit by lava. The picture below was painted in the 1700s and it is still going strong. The oldest trees noted in Western history tend to be the olives and cedar trees. Because of its significance the word “Cedar” is mentioned 75 times in the Bible and was used for wood, incense and ritual goods.  The palaces of Solomon and David were built with beams from the Cedars of Lebanon. Deforestation has removed most of the larger specimens of the Cedars of Lebanon, Cedrus libani, but they survive as forests with younger trees. Ancient olive trees are found on Cyprus, in Greece, in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. The 16 Sisters Olive Trees of Noah are a grove of sixteen olive trees in the Lebanese town of Bcheale believed to have ages between 5000-6000 years. They still produce olives and oil. Not quite as ancient is the Bowthorpe oak which at 1000 years is the oldest tree in England.It has a girth of 42 feet and is hollow inside.  It is claimed that 3 dozen people can and have stood in the center, These ancient trees have born witness to prehistory and history. to climate change and to periods of poor human stewardship.  We can take this time to appreciate the wonders of creation and to preserve the gifts of nature that we have been given.

Bowthorpe Oak, Britian's oldest Oak at 1000 years
Bowthorpe Oak, Britian’s oldest Oak at 1000 years
Chestnut if 100 horsemen
Chestnut of 100 horsemen. Sicily
Llangernyw Yew
Llangernyw Yew

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Sixteen Sister Olive Trees of Noah, Lebanon
Sixteen Sister Olive Trees of Noah, Lebanon
Lebanon Cedar in the Forest of the Cedars of God.
Lebanon Cedar in the Forest of the Cedars of God.
Olivetree of Vouves, Crete.  Wikipedia
Olivetree of Vouves, Crete. Wikipedia

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