The oldest tree in the world, the eastern California pine Methuselah, which is around 4,853 years old, may have a new contender, found in Chile. The discovery was made in Alerce Costero National Park, and the tree in question would be an ancient Patagonian cypress, called Alerce Milenario, and could be around 5,400 years old according to experts.
Nicknamed the Southern Redwood, the tree has a trunk with a diameter of 4 meters, and it is one of the most endangered conifers in the country and in the world, due to the reckless deforestation and mass tourism of the area.
Mass tourism and logging are therefore threatening the limited number of Patagonian cypresses left. Dr Jonathan Barichivich of the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in Paris, explained: "The result was that there is 80% of the statistical certainty that the tree is more than 5,000 years old, with a very probable age about 5,484 years.
If we compare it with the already dated trees in which we count all the rings, it would make it one of the oldest living trees on the planet."
The Patagonian cypress is typical of the Valdivian temperate forest, in Chilean Patagonia, and marginally Argentina, between the latitudes of 40 ° S and 43 ° S, where it forms almost pure woods, alerzales, up to an elevation of about 1500 meters.
The area occupied by these woods, originally much larger, has been reduced to about 20,000 ha due to the intense exploitation as a source of timber, so much so that the IUCN considers Fitzoya as an endangered species. Since 1976 the cutting of these trees to produce timber has been prohibited.
Fitzroya fossils from the Oligocene have also been found in Tasmania. It is an evergreen tree that reaches 40-60 m in height exceptionally over 70 m, with diameters up to 5 m. The leaves are 3–6 mm long and about 2 mm wide.
The cones are globose, small, with a diameter of 6-8 mm, and open when ripe; the seeds are 2–3 mm long and winged on both sides. In 1993 the analysis of a Chilean specimen documented an age of 3622 years.