Home Science Environment Researchers Document the Oldest Known Trees in Eastern North America

Researchers Document the Oldest Known Trees in Eastern North America

A recently documented stand of bald cypress trees in North Carolina, including one tree at least 2,624 years old, are the oldest known living trees in eastern North America and the oldest known wetland tree species in the world.

Black water, white sand and millenia-old trees at Black River. (Image: Dan Griffin)
Black water, white sand, and millenia-old trees at Black River. (Image: Dan Griffin)

David Stahle, Distinguished Professor of geosciences, along with colleagues from the university’s Ancient Bald Cypress Consortium and other conservation groups, discovered the trees in 2017 in a forested wetland preserve along the Black River south of Raleigh, North Carolina. Stahle documented the age of the trees using dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, and radiocarbon dating.

A huge cypress tree at Black River. (Image: Dan Griffin)
A huge cypress tree at Black River. (Image: Dan Griffin)

His findings were published in the journal Environmental Research Communications. The ancient trees are part of an intact ecosystem that spans most of the 65-mile length of the Black River. In addition to their age, the trees are a scientifically valuable means of reconstructing ancient climate conditions.

Ancient blad cypress trees line the Black River in North Carolina. (Image: Dan Griffin)
Ancient bald cypress trees line the Black River in North Carolina. (Image: Dan Griffin)

The oldest trees in the preserve extend the paleoclimate record in the southeast United States by 900 years, and show evidence of droughts and flooding during colonial and pre-colonial times that exceed any measured in modern times. Stahle said:

Stahle has been working in the area since 1985, and cataloged bald cypress trees as old as 1,700 years in a 1988 study published in the journal Science. His work helped preserve the area: 16,000 acres were purchased by The Nature Conservancy, a private land-conservation group that keeps most of its holdings open to the public.

An old overcup oak, also along the Black River. (Image: Dan Griffin)
An old overcup oak, also along the Black River. (Image: Dan Griffin)

Katherine Skinner, executive director of The North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said:

For the newest study, researchers used non-destructive core samples from 110 trees found in a section of the wetland forest they had not previously visited. Stahle said:

Provided by: Bob Whitby, University of Arkansas [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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