Trees in North Carolina found to be the oldest known wetland trees on the planet

Less than 1% of the ancient bald cypress forests survived logging in America’s history, but now, an Arkansas professor and researcher has discovered trees that were alive six centuries before the birth of Jesus. They survive today just an hour’s drive from Wilmington, North Carolina.

A professor of geoscience, David Stahle, and his team of researchers say the bald cypress trees from the Black River in North Carolina are the oldest known wetland trees in the world in one of the “greatest natural areas left in Eastern North America.” Some of the trees date back to 605 BC, or 2,624 years old, by far the oldest living trees ever found in Eastern North America. They believe there could be older trees in the area.

The ecosystem along the Black River has remained intact for most of its 65-mile length. Stahle was astonished to discover that the pristine wetland habitat extended for miles with many secrets left to be found for conservationists and scientists.

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

Over more than two decades, the Nature Conservancy has conserved 16,000 acres of ancient bald cypress forests along the Black River in North Carolina, but thousands of more acres are at risk of disappearing forever. Thanks to Dr. Stahle’s work, some of it will remain preserved, but they hope their latest findings will provide an incentive for more private, state, and federal conservation.

Traveling into the Black River, observers say they can feel a real sense of going back in time.

“These trees have been here so long. It’s something that you don’t experience anywhere else. You don’t get near something that old or something that has been that significant in your whole life. And when you come in here you get that timeline, and you feel it,” explained Capt. Charles Robbins from Cape Fear River Watch.

The researchers took core samples from the trees in a way they say does not harm them. The extracted thin tube of wood provides a window into climate change over the lifetime of the trees, revealing patterns of drought and flooding over millennia.

From Newsweek:

“In fact, the researchers say that the tree samples have provided the longest exactly-dated climate proxy—a source of climate information taken from natural material which can be used to estimate past conditions—in eastern North America, showing evidence of drought and flooding during pre-colonial times.”

The discovery is amazing for many reasons.

“It’s a remarkable discovery and it’s also a wonder that an organism can live this long. And when you add to that the annual rings record the history of the environment it’s a tremendous paleoclimate record,” explains Stahle.

The bald cypress trees in North Carolina have now taken the record for oldest wetland trees. Another bald cypress from Mexico and Texas, the Montezuma bald cypress can live for 1,500 years or more. Those trees have become a rallying point for conservationists who oppose a southern border wall.

One of the oldest trees in the world remains the Great Basin bristlecone pine at 5,066 years old.


Next is the Alerce Patagonian cypress tree from Chile at 3,622 years old and the giant sequoia, the world’s most massive tree and one of the oldest at over 3,266 years old.

See video of the ancient trees from David Stahle below:

Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube


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