Oldest European Tree Found—And It’s Having a Growth Spurt

A Heldreich’s pine discovered in southern Italy has been thriving in a remote part of a national park for 1,230 years.

A craggy pine tree growing in southern Italy is 1,230 years old, making it the oldest tree in Europe that has been scientifically dated.

Moreover, the ancient pine seems to be living it up in its old age, researchers reported last week in the journal Ecology. Examinations show that the tree had a growth spurt in recent decades, where larger rings were added to its trunk even though many trees in the Mediterranean region have been experiencing a decline in growth.

The discovery shows that some trees can survive for centuries even when subjected to extreme changes in climate. This ancient pine, for example, would have germinated in a cold period during Medieval times and then lived through much warmer temperatures, including periods of drought.

“Studying multi-centennial trees is highly valuable to better predict the future impact of climate on forest ecosystems,” says Maxime Cailleret from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, who studies tree mortality.

Turning to Dust

Gianluca Piovesan from the University of Tuscia and his colleagues came across the elderly Heldreich’s pine on a steep, rocky slope high in the mountains of Pollino National Park. While the tree looked very old, the team soon realized that determining its true age wouldn’t be as simple as dating its rings. The central part of the tree, which would…

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