confirmed ages for eastern species   Neil
  Dec 13, 2003 07:42 PST 

Yes, OLDLIST list is limited. Peter Brown maintains the list on his own time. Submissions are voluntary.

It is biased towards the American SW and other regions where trees can live a millennium or longer and species that can live that long. A 300 year old tree is not impressive to a dendrochronologist in the American SW or someone studying conifers in Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania....

As ENTS knows, eastern species are worthy trees, too! More importantly, besides the basic natural history info max ages can provide, maximum ages from the literature are being used in models used to forecast the impact of future climate change on ecosystems. Craig Loehle published a nice compilation of ages from the literature a few years back. Going over that list, it is clear, as Charlie has discussed, there are limitations about what we know about maximum tree ages. This subject may be in its infancy compared to the tree height work of ENTS. For example, the Silvics of NA says that cucumber magnolia "seldom reaches more than 150 years." This may be true, but it gives no insight to its maximum age. Further, Hough and Forbes study of the PA high plateaus shows at least 23 cucumbers trees more than 160 years old, 7 of which are more than 200 years. One of those trees was over 300 years old.

As Charlie pointed out, the lack of good information works in the other direction [i.e. 900 year old hemlock]. This type of information is having some real world consequences. I met the MD Dept. of Natural Resources person whose job is to identify and delineate OG on public lands. They have many attributes to help guide him in identifying OG. One attribute is 1/2 maximum age for the species. On their list, they have 400 years as 1/2 max age for hemlock. So, several stand that are likely OG are not being designated because he can not find a 400 yr old hemlock [before someone gets too upset, they have a panel and use reason in identifying old-growth. They even have a term for it: oldest-growth, as in oldest possible growth for the area]. As Charlie discussed here earlier, 600 years is a rare max age for hemlock. Ed Cook has never broken 600 although he has cored > 1000 hemlocks from Nova Scotia to Alabama. This would suggest that typical max age might be in the 400-550 year range. So, 1/2 maximum age for hemlock might be best put at 250-275 years, but this is just a suggestion I have. It would take more study to know typical max age better.

The MD DNR OG person is having the same issue w/ white oak. They have 300 years as 1/2 max age for white oak. There may be a 600 year old white oak in the landscape today. However, nearly 3 decades of work by David Stahle, Ed Cook and other have produced only a handful of white oak verified to be 400-420 yrs old. Of course, internal decay is one of our nemeses here.

Long story short, I’d reckon we have a lot to learn about max ages of eastern species.

Re: confirmed ages for eastern species
  Dec 13, 2003 09:28 PST 


Good information and I couldn't agree with you more about the need to be reasonable when it comes to using maximum known species ages to classify old growth. Darn, some of these people act as though they don't have an ounce of common sense.

As you know, old hemlocks are common in the Berkshires. Many locations have patches of hemlocks that predate the period of settlement for the particular area. However, patches may not contain a single 300-year old hemlock. The age range for the mature hemlocks in one of the patches can be very broad 100 to 275) and fits well with Lee's descriptions for multi-aged (old growth) forests.

   Since we've been looking, we've only confirmed a handful of Massachusetts hemlocks over 400 years old. The oldest actual ring count is 474.   With 1 to 2 inches left to center and a 3+ foot coring height, there is no question that the hemlock is 500 years old, but we've found only the one.

   The determination of species maximums could be a science unto itself. Broad measures of central tendency and dispersion are necessary to understand big populations, but a top-down approach to determining species potential has its place. The Rucker index applied iteratively and across large geographical areas gives us a lot better species profile than can be derived from concentrated data collected at a few sample plots.

Re: Setting the bar for ancient Eastern trees   greentreedoctor
  Mar 02, 2004 14:38 PST 

I just talked to a forester from Ontario.   He said there was some article about limestone escarpment white cedars near the NE or Great Lakes that had growth as slow as the bristlecone (smaller diameter, though)???   Does anyone remember seeing such an article and is this worth checking out?   Or do cypress still rule the East? I remember reading about a dwarf Siberian tree with 600 years of growth to the inch.    

Re: Setting the bar for ancient Eastern trees   Lee E. Frelich
  Mar 02, 2004 14:50 PST 


There are several articles by a research group from Ontario including D.W.
Larson, P.E. Kelly, from the University of Guelph. The growth rates of
northern white cedar on rocky terrain are comparable to bristlecone
pines. It is not clear whether white cedar or cypress will turn out to be
the oldest trees in the east. Kelly had a 1650 year old white cedar on one
of his study sites on the Niagara escarpment on the Bruce Peninsula, Lake

Re: Setting the bar for ancient Eastern trees   Lee Frelich
  Mar 02, 2004 17:01 PST 


As long as we are on the topic of lightning, I think it is one of the main
causes of tree mortality. A tall object cannot stand in one place for
several hundred years in the Midwest without getting struck. Then rot gets
into the wound, and several decades later, the rot catches up with growth
(i.e. the diameter of the trunk can no longer outpace the advancing rot),
and the tree falls over.

This may also be the explanation for the ancient white cedars--they are too
short to attract lightning, and the cliff towering above them is more
likely to be struck anyway. So, they just live for centuries.


RE: Setting the bar for ancient Eastern trees   John Eichholz
  Mar 02, 2004 17:30 PST 

Randy, Lee:
Following your lead I found this article, which was fascinating.

Re: Setting the bar for ancient Eastern trees   greentreedoctor
  Mar 02, 2004 17:30 PST 

Just a few things I pulled off the net to possible prod discussion on the age limits of Eastern trees and the reliability of estimating hollow trees.   

He adds, however, that old-growth can be found across the country, even in more densely populated East, which Stahle says is home to more than 2,000 miles of old-growth woodlands. Among the areas hosting some of those miles are places like New York's Hudson Valley, which is home to 500-year-old pines; the Black River region of North Carolina, which possesses bald cypress some 1,500-2,000 years old; and the forest-covered mountains of Massachusetts, which harbor 400-year-old red oaks.    American Forests

bluffs bordering Keystone Reservoir a few miles west of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Field surveys identified an ancient tree believed to be the world's oldest known post oak. University teams also discovered a 500-year-old red cedar on a site believed to contain the largest concentration of ancient cedars in the United States.

Based on anecdotal evidence, the Wye Oak was thought to be over 450 years old. The Charter Oak in Connecticut, which was felled by a storm in 1856, was estimated by some to be perhaps 1,000 years old.

Notice where this tree is growing, in the middle of Congaree Swamp, South Carolina (photo L.J. Cushman). This is a baldcypress tree (Taxodium distichum), currently the oldest species known in the Southeastern U.S. (about 1,650 years old).

These three northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) trees, known as The Three Kings, are rooted in the
talus at the base of the Niagara Escarpment (photo Peter Kelly). They are 956, 1033 and 1156 years old.

Hemlock is the longest lived of the indigenous tree species. Some say it can live 600-800 years. There are many hemlocks in this woodlot over 300 years old.

Bald cypress trees are not true cypresses but belong to the same plant family as the sequoias, Taxodiaceae. These trees are the sequoias of the Midwest, with some reaching over 100 feet tall and from 800 to 1,500 years of age. The oldest and largest tree in the state is a bald cypress.

The Senator's official age is 3500 years plus or minus a 100 years.   One reference states that an "increment borer" was used by the Department of Forestry to remove a core sample from the trunk. From this core the tree's annual growth rings were counted to come to a very accurate measurement of age. The Senator may have competition from a bald cypress in Southern Mexico that was reported by a Missouri timber engineer to be 140 ft (42.7 m) tall and 39 ft (11.9 m) in diameter (measured 40 ft above the ground) and at least 4000 years old - at the time believed to be the oldest living thing on earth. There is also a competitor reported in Weakley County Tennessee.

The oldest living cedar that we have lives on a cliff face and it germinated in 952 A.D. (i.e. 1051 years old). This was determined from a cross-dated tree-ring count back to 1039 A.D. plus an estimated 87 years lost from the pith area. The oldest dead white cedar I've found had a tree-ring count of 1,653 years. This is a pith date from the base. Another white cedar with a ring count of 1,567 years was estimated to be missing 323 rings from its base, thus an estimated age of 1,890 years" (Kelly and Larson 1997, and P.E. Kelly e-mail 15-Nov-2002).

The oldest known trees east of the Rocky Mountains can be found on this meandering blackwater stream in the southeastern part of the state: a stand of 1,700-year-old bald cypress.

We can add N.H.'s 600 to 700 year old black tupelo, 350 year old cross-timber post oaks of Texas, 650 year old Boone Plantation live oak.

Re: Setting the bar for ancient Eastern trees   The Darbyshires
  Mar 02, 2004 23:46 PST 
There was an article about the Niagara Escarpment in American Scientist (not
Scientific American) a few years ago. I think that a picture from the
article was even on the front cover. The authors wrote about the old trees
growing there and how some of the cedars had a single live strip of bark
apparently keeping them alive, similar to some of the bristlecone pines. I
thought it was an interesting article. They also have a fairly extensive
web site. You could check out the website for American Scientist and see if
they have the table of contents for back issues online.

RE: Setting the bar for ancient Eastern trees   Robert Leverett
  Mar 03, 2004 06:52 PST 

Lee, Randy:

   The northern white cedar and the bald cypress seemed locked in
competition for the #1 position. However, Lee, from what you've
described to me the number of Methuselah candidates among the white
cedars haven't even begun to be touched. By contrast, our rapacious,
disrespectful society has ravaged the bald cypress stands and left few
sites and candidates in the millennium club. So, I would guess that in
sheer numbers, the northern white cedar is champ. However, given the
fact that Dave Stahle didn't hit the center of the Black River bald
cypress and cored it well above its base, the tree has to be over 2,000
years of age.

Randy and others (except Lee, Charlie, Neil, etc.):

   A word of caution on putting credence in the lists others put
together about maximum ages of old trees. Those lists and sources
usually suffer from the same weaknesses as the big tree lists of others
and popular articles often have egregious reporting errors.

Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Robert Leverett
  Mar 03, 2004 09:08 PST 


   You are right. Keeping the mind open to other possibilities even if
the sources are not trusted by some of us is sage advice. Pushing the
envelope is something that we in ENTS regularly do and it is good for us
to hear your cautions about getting too uppity puppity. After all we had
our beginnings in fighting the forestry establishment over methods for
measuring tree dimensions. We were the underdog and at the outset our
chances of success could have been put at little or none when one
considers that our adversaries were absolutely convinced that they had
the world market on tree measurements corners and if improvements were
to be made, they would necessary flow from the forestry "Skunk Works".

    This having been said and your acknowledgement of my cautions duly
noted, we in ENTS can be properly proud of our base of knowledge about
maximum tree ages. Drs. David Stahle, Charles Cogbill, Lee Frelich, and
Robert Van Pelt are all ENTS members. Doctors to be Neil Pederson, Matt
Therrell, and Bruce Allen are also. Some of the very people mentioned in
the articles, including Dr. Doug Larson, have been part of our past old
growth conferences. In our quest for heights and volumes, we should also
pay homage to those whose knowledge of the tree elders runs deep.

Re: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   David Orwig
  Mar 03, 2004 10:33 PST 
To the Forum: one of the best sources of accurate tree ring ages is the
International Tree ring database. This database contains literally
thousands of tree-ring chronologies, which means not only are they aged,
but each individual ring has been measured. This can be accessed at :   or

On a related note since it is of interest to many on this group, Tony
D'Amato has now confirmed a hemlock age of 488 from Cold River. We have
found many over 300 as well. This is now the 2nd site with hemlocks over
470 years as Larry Winship recently aged one at Dunbar Brook to 474 I
believe. Combine these findings with the fantastic tree heights that Bob
et al. continue to document, it makes the Berkshire Hills one incredible

Sincerely, DAVE ORWIG

RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Robert Leverett
  Mar 03, 2004 12:04 PST 


   Awesome!! Forgive me, my friend, for leaving your name out of that
list of distinguished scientists with lots of experience in tree-ring
analysis. You are equally distinguished. My brain was out to lunch. We
just need to hear more from you, Dave. You have an incredible cache of

   The 488-year old hemlock in Cold River greatly exceeds the 425-year
old one I dated there years ago. Congratulations to Tony. Cold River is
one of 4 places that have documented tree ages of over 400 years for
Tsuga canadensis in Massachusetts. They are: Cold River, Dunbar Brook,
Little River, and Alander Mountain. If we had a mere 20 years to Tony's
age to get a projected age at the base, we're over 500 years. Seems
entirely reasonable.

   With respect to Mohawk's tall trees, on March 2nd, John Eichholz
added a 121.7-foot black cherry to Mohawk's list of 120-foot species. We
now have confirmed 10 species that reach 120 feet. Mohawk has 5 that
reach 130, 2 that reach 140, and 1 that reaches 150. Mohawk has 24
species that reach 100 feet. Not bad for a little state forest in
crowded Massachusetts that was hardly even noticed, except for camping,
prior to 1988. We also measured a red oak with a height to diameter
ratio of 115 to 1 ( 102.9 ft hgt, 2.8 ft CBH). This is the slenderest
tree we have found over 100 feet tall that has a very high height to
diameter ratio and it turns out to be a northern red oak. Fancy that!

RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Will Blozan
  Mar 03, 2004 18:01 PST 
Perhaps you are speaking of MA only but three eastern hemlocks in the
Smokies have been confirmed over 500, two over 530 years. I know that two
are dead, and the other is presumed dead or well on it's way...

RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   John Eichholz
  Mar 03, 2004 18:38 PST 

A quick (web) reference to understanding that page of
numbers that represents the tree ring data:

I found it at


RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Neil
  Mar 04, 2004 04:56 PST 

Dear ENTS,

Seems like lightning struck twice yesterday in terms of maximum tree age.

Yesterday, Myvonwynn Hopton, a tech in our lab, confirmed a cucumbertree
[Magnolia acuminata] 349 years old! A second Magnolia from this stand looks like it will
be very close to 300 years old. Two more are ~200 years old. BTW, we have 2 tulip-poplars
and a shagbark in that same stand > 300 years old.

The silvics manual says: "This species [cucumber tree] matures in 100 years and seldom
lives more than 150 years (8)." This one stand in VA indicates this may not be true.

Keep pushing ENTS. Keep pushing our knowledge of tall, voluminous and old trees!


Re: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees    Colby Rucker
   Mar 04, 2004 11:34 PST 


If we apply the silvicultural references in an economically practical sense,
across the whole range of a species, the difference between the stated
maximums and the ages attained by exceptional specimens in optimum
environments narrows considerably.

On the Maryland coastal plain, trees grow very rapidly, but their lifespans
are severely limited by the effects of high summer temperatures, droughts,
severe thunderstorms and hurricanes.

Hereabouts, "ancient" trees routinely prove to be much younger when cut.
I've counted rings on stumps and limbs, and taken periodic measurements of
lots of trees in my work for nearly fifty years, and find that few trees
survive past 80-100, when much of a woodland begins to simply fall down.

I'll list ages for some exceptional specimens, derived by a variety of
observations and measurements:

white oak - Wye Oak, cbh 31' 10"- 365
tuliptree - Liberty Tree, cbh 26' 11" - 356
black walnut - Rhode River, cbh 21' 6" - 329
white oak - Wilmer Stone Oak, cbh 20' 9.5" - 300
white oak - Belt Woods, cbh ca. 11' - 240
mockernut hickory - Annapolis, cbh ca. 4.5' - 211
southern red oak - Cedar Park, cbh 30' 0" - 200
black oak - Belt Woods - 200
American beech - Cedar Park - 200
sour gum - Chase Creek - 190
chestnut oak - St. Margarets - 160
northern red oak - Chase Creek - 125
white ash - State House - 112
black cherry - Chase Creek - 106
scarlet oak - Chase Creek - 86
Virginia pine - Chase Creek - 80

Most of the trees were dead or decadent. I expect the sour gums to reach
250, a few northern reds may see 165, chestnut oak 200, and scarlet oak 120.
More importantly, a list of maximums can be misleading.   Maybe it's better
to consider a sort of "half life" as in radioactivity. The last ca. 200
year-old black oak in my woods has fallen, and the rest are perhaps 100.

From a silvicultural standpoint, a few lingering shells don't reflect the
average lifespan of a species before a significant number of them start
falling over, dying back, or rotting up the center. On less stressful
sites, as in the mountains, that stage will be delayed.

So, it's difficult for anyone to state the lifespan of any species without
going into a lot of detail regarding regional differences, habitat
influences, and survival percentages. I suppose it's like people; a few
live past 100, but hard work will break you down by half that.

Anyway, we probably need to consider the silvicultural ages as working
numbers, not absolute maximums.

RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees    Will Blozan
   Mar 04, 2004 18:41 PST 

We have an 18' cbh cuke down here in the Smokies that could be fairly old.
Do you have a 3' corer? I have no doubt whatsoever that tuliptree will reach
600+. I have cored them to 440 years+ on two adjacent trees...(less than 32"

Re: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees
  Mar 05, 2004 04:12 PST 


It is fine by me if silviculturalists state maximum species ages in terms of regional maximums or working "life spans" so long as what is being stated is not misleading. The maximum age of the eastern hemlock is usually placed at 988 years, but region maximums are between 350 and 500 years and there are, no doubt local areas where the hemlocks don't reach that. The use of a single figure is or at least can be highly misleading. There's no argument from me on that, whether it is reporting of a working maximum as an absolute maximum or reporting a statistical anomalie as typical.

RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Dee & Neil Pederson
  Mar 06, 2004 19:05 PST 


In going over some species in the silvics
manuals it seems that the information is somewhat
uneven. The information for cucumbertree is
limited, but other species, such as white spruce,
the information is pretty good.

Below is max age info for white spruce:

"Maximum individual tree age appears to occur on
stress sites at latitudinal or elevational
treeline rather than on good sites where trees
attain maximum size. A partially rotted 16.5 cm
(6.5 in) tree growing on the Mackenzie River
Delta (above lat. 67 N.) had a 589-year ring
sequence, and trees nearly 1,000 years old occur
above the Arctic Circle (51). On good sites,
trees 100 to 250 years old are common, and the
oldest trees (250 to 300 years) are frequently
found in areas protected from fire, such as
islands, and in relatively wet upland situations


The author seems to have a good handle on how
long white species can live and supports Colby's
half-life idea.

Knowledge of a species is likely related to its
economic and ecological value. 300+ yr old
cucumbertrees is not   new information. Hough
and Forbes documented 200-300+ cucumbertree in
the high plateau of PA in 1943. For some reason,
this info did not make it into the silvics manual
or the Textbook of Dendrology.

You can probably guess my disagreement with the
maximum age of white spruce. The claim of nearly
1000 years seems to be a bit of a stretch. Gordon
Jacoby has been studying old white spruce in
along the northern treeline of N.A. since the
late-1970s and he has never documented a white
spruce close to that age. He is a master of
finding the oldest tree in a stand he is
sampling. I believe there has been only one white
spruce found > 500 years old. It was found by
Giddings in the first half of the 20th century.
People have started collecting deadwood from the
northern treeline to extend the length of living
white spruce chronologies. Perhaps there is a
dead spruce that lived close to 1000 years?

RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Dee & Neil Pederson
  Mar 06, 2004 19:16 PST 


I think our longest borers are out of the country. I'll have to
check our equipment room, but we should have a 24" borer in the lab.
Several of the cucumbertrees in the stand I sampled were hollow,
including a couple that were older looking than the oldest one.
Hollow trees are so frustrating.

Do you still have the tuliptree cores? It'd be neat to see those
samples [wow]! That beats the oldest tulips in the International
Tree-Ring Data Bank by 100 years. You've got some good info in those



RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Will Blozan
  Mar 07, 2004 08:26 PST 

The cores from both trees are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Archives under the Sugarlands Visitor Center, as are many other cores I have
taken. Has anyone been interested or even thought of collecting cores from
the ancient eastern hemlocks (and Carolinas as well) before they are wiped
out in the southern Apps? Seems like a potential dendrochronological
resource going to waste. But then again, hemlock may suck as far as
dendrochronology goes... I am positive that eastern hemlock will exceed 600
years, but finding a solid tree that old may be hard. However, it will most
likely be an understory tree suppressed for centuries, and be quite small
(less than 80 cm dbh). These trees are usually solid- but tend to have lots
of "ring shake?" (as I am sure you are well aware!)


RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Dee & Neil Pederson
  Mar 09, 2004 17:30 PST 

Eastern hemlock has been one of the primary species in the study of
paleoclimate and forest history in eastern NA. Its longevity,
tolerance of competition and relatively high sensitivity to climate
make it an ideal species to use for tree-ring analysis. Its utility
for tree-ring analysis is another reason to lament the loss of
eastern hemlock.

Ed Cook has a network of at least 42 hemlock populations from the
northern AL to Nova Scotia over to MI. His primary paper on the
species is:

Cook, E. R. and Cole, J. 1991. Predicting the response of forests in
eastern North America to future climatic change. Climatic Change

Every few months over the past few years Ed has talked about
updating his sites one last time. He just has no time these days to
do it.

The oldest intact hemlock he cored is from Tionesta, PA and dates to
1425. He says those trees were relatively small.

RE: Setting the age bar for ancient Eastern trees   Dale J. Luthringer
  Mar 10, 2004 06:06 PST 

That is incredible age for hemlock. I didn't realize that some of the
hemlocks in Tionesta could ever reach that age. I have done rough ring
counts on downed trees that were sawed off gas lines to 420+. This
particular tree wasn't all that big, maybe 30"DBH, and the cut where I
counted was about 15ft from its base. I'd love to know the section he
was in where he cored them. Ed has given me a new respect for the
Tionesta Scenic Area.