Longevity   abi-@u.washington.edu
  Oct 05, 2003 07:02 PDT 

I was intrigued by Colby's comments on longevity. His extensive experience on the east coast and as an arborist undoubtedly led to these observations. When I read his remarks on what trees do to live long, my first thoughts were of a completely different nature. Having traveled a bit and living on the west coast of North America, I would have summarized the qualifications for longevity in one word: conifers.

If you look at all of the trees that can live for 1,000 years (not to be confused with a misleading coffee-table book with a similar title), all are conifers. In the list I have prepared below, the numbers refer to scientifically verified ages of individual trees that exceed 1,000 years. The numbers in parentheses are those which may reach, or have reached this age based on existing data and/or historical evidence.

Conifers Hardwoods

Africa 1 (4+) 0 (2)
Asia 7 (10+) 0 (3+)
Australia and Oceana 6 (8) 0 (3)
Europe 2 (4) 0 (5)
North America 19 (25+) 0 (0)
South America 2 (3) 0 (1+)

Total 37 0

Supposed dates for historic trees exist for Ficus religiosa, Quercus robur,
Quercus patrea, and Tilia platyphyllos that all exceed 1,000 years, and
probably are valid, but have not been authenticatd by scientific means.

Re: Longevity   Greentr-@aol.com
  Oct 05, 2003 08:33 PDT 

I mentioned "chestnut" in my last posting on this thread. Let's add another
chestnut (Castanea dentata) to this historical tree list (with supposed
dates). The largest girthed tree in the world may well be Italy's Chestnut of a
Hundred Horses (190 feet in circumference). The name is attributable to
tradition according to which, during a strong storm, this tree acted as shelter for
Gueen Giovanna D'Aragona and her retinue of one hundred knights (in the
1,500's!). Contemporary scientists estimate it's age between 3,600 to 4,000 years of
age (about the age of the Senator; a Florida Bald Cypress). Though much of
the trunk was burned out in 1923 (they use to roast chestnuts inside!), there
are other sizeable chestnuts in the area.
Let's not leave it there, but rather, bring this discussion back to North
America (if not to South Carolina). The Angel Oak, a live oak near Charleston,
has been estimated by scientists to be between 1,500 to 1,600 years of age (for
interested members, I have a great photo I can send you).
Randy Cyr
Greenville, SC
Re: Longevity   Dee & Neil Pederson
  Oct 05, 2003 18:31 PDT 

here is one source of verified maximum tree ages for some species:


about the old live oak: these ages often seem a bit exaggerated.

in SW georgia i worked on a project to determine if the live oaks
around ponds in a longleaf pine forest were a cultural remnant or
natural. after snapping a large diameter borer in a medium sized live
oak, it was decided that a company would be hired to cut down ~ 6
live oak.

after spending all day and losing several chains on the largest
tree, a total of 2 were cut down.

the exact ages do not remain in my mind, but the one roughly 2 feet
in diameter was no more than 90 years old. the one that i sat on to
sand [at least 5-6 feet diameter, maybe more] was roughly 200 years

they were much faster growing that we expected. when ted turner came
through for a visit, he didn't like the results because he owned the
10th largest live oak in the world and it had to be ancient!!

i think live oaks growing in parks are much faster growing than we suppose.


Re: Longevity/Excessive incremental boring   Greentr-@aol.com
  Oct 05, 2003 20:05 PDT 
Thanks for the great website URL. 1,500 to 1,600 years for a live oak does
sound a bit much. I am presently working on a Live Oak website (among other
things), which will feature Antebellum Oaks of the South. What I have found
during my plantation tours is that it's not uncommon to find a larger 300 year
old live oak standing near a smaller 600 year old. Why is this? I don't have
all the answers. Many dates are set by history, cross-reference and short
cores. Old live oaks can be extremely difficult to date. The scientists that I
have talked to have said that the Angel Oak consistently dates between 1,500 &
1,600 years. The only way for each of us to be 100% sure is to core all the
way through the stem (for ourselves). If one will not accept another's
estimate, there will soon not be enough xylem left to support the 170 feet crown. I
can but hope that if a society arises to challenge these "exaggerated" claims,
that it not be before reliable "less invasive technology" comes available.
After all, no matter how beneficial we make coring sound, it's not quite like
using a laser/clinometer to measure height within a foot. With all the
exaggerated height claims this Group exposes, I can well understand why we would and
should scrutinize every claim of great age.
Re: Longevity/Excessive incremental boring   paul-@direcway.com
  Oct 06, 2003 08:19 PDT 

I visited http://www.angeloaktree.org/history.htm . So, scientists state that the angel live oak is approximately 1500 years old and that another is about 1400 years old. What method did they use to arrive at this estimate? I'm assuming that the center of the oak has long since rotted out and we all know that ring width extrapolation does not work.

Paul Jost
Re: Longevity/Excessive incremental boring   Greentr-@aol.com
  Oct 06, 2003 09:45 PDT 
You should know that "I" do not claim that the Angel Oak is 1,400 to 1,600
years old, I merely state that scientists have said this. I have not cored this
tree, nor would I be allowed to (this declining giant is closely guarded). I
just got off the phone with a highly-respected, former USDAFS top scientist
(he wished not to be named in our Discussion). He said this was based upon a
number of Charleston area foresters who cored some of the largest branches (the
trunk's center is hollow). He said the lasted dating would still be over
1,000 years of age. I don't have great problems with that number. A Boone's
Plantation oak, dated almost 700 years of age, is a much smaller tree. A number
of Live Oaks in the Charleston area were documented of huge size as much as
300 years ago.
One ENTS member said a 5 to 6 ft dbh live oak was but 200 years. I don't
doubt this. Most trees, given the ideal environment, will reach their genetic
zenith. But that age is not necessarily the norm. The live oaks of famed Oak
Alley Plantation (again, I have great photos of all these trees), some about 5
to 6 feet dbh, are historically documented almost 400 years.
I concede that, when it comes to great height and age, "conifers rule". And
that prudent coring has a useful place in arboriculture and forestry. But,
until some of these claims are successfully challenged, please allow this ole
eastern country boy the right to dream a little...to wonder...what if they
"could" be that old? What events have they witnessed beneath their lofty
boughs...if they could talk, what tales would they tell? How did this aging giant
survive Hugo (and a hundred other storms) unscathed...survive man's propensity to
destroy...to core out of curiosity...
Randy Cyr
Greenville, SC     
RE: Longevity/Excessive incremental boring   Robert Leverett
  Oct 06, 2003 11:54 PDT 


   You have made your case well. Your fellow ENTS grant to you and each
other the privilege of dreaming about a life form so old and venerable.
Regardless of how old the Angel Oak actually is, it has earned its place
in our minds as a thousand-year old citizen.

Re: Longevity/Excessive incremental boring/'gator 'restling   Greentr-@aol.com
  Oct 06, 2003 14:01 PDT 

Subscribing to another ListServ, banter and sometimes rancor is not foreign
to this New England native, though normally along left-coast/right-coast rifes.
I have found, in personal encounters, these "gentlemen" not so intimidating.
My first Greenville customer once asked me, "Ye one of them Yanks, ain't
ye?" A friend waiting at least a hundred feet away in his car burst out
laughing. I went on to find this not representative of the area. Greenville, ideally
situated between Charlotte and Atlanta, and ranked nationally at or near the
top for growth, has the world's highest concentration of engineers (over
10,000). Many, like me, are northern transplants.
I'm not aware of any 'gator 'restling in our area (or, for that matter,
within the state). Floridians once frolicked in such sport, but have since been
banned (activism?).
I understand that Mr. Felkel lost his property to a tax lien many years ago
and the City of Charleston has since purchased the property (1991?) and turned
it into a park. Though it's closer to a half hour drive from downtown
Charleston, admission is free and many have left truly enriched. With a hollow
trunk, we are left with dating it's very large branches. Whatever the age of this
venerable giant, some bald cypress are likely thousands of years older. Some
well-traveled scientists have said it was the most remarkable tree they've
ever seen. I do have photos of some of these PhD's (none related to "Speedy"),
who believe the oak may actually be that old, standing at it's base (off
ListServ). But I see no point subjecting these distinguished foresters, educated
north of the Mason-Dixon, to public ridicule. If you have information
challenging their assertions, please educate us all.
ENTS is much about measuring the East's tallest native trees. In southern
Appalachia, we seem to have our share of them. Of course, to verify these stats
would mean crossing the Mason-Dixon. If you dare risk a maneating 'gator
encounter, come on down to our beautiful state and show us where we've missed it
(please don't go back to Fort Sumter). If you're like many, you may actually
fall in love with our State and it's great people and decide to move here.
Re: Longevity/Excessive incremental boring   abi-@u.washington.edu
  Oct 06, 2003 15:07 PDT 

A few comments on the thread that has developed.

In the Pacific Northwest, the ecology branch of the Pacific Northwest Research Station has developed a series of several hundred plots to determine site productivity from plant indicator species. Coring trees is one of the many things they do in each plot. When speaking with one of the workers, she indicated that on a return trip 10 years later that every Abies they had cored was dead. Coring will not likely do this to a healthy Douglas-fir or pine that has resinous heartwood, but killed many trees for no good reason. Coring has a place, but good ecological knowledge is often superior.

The Tree of 100 horses, a Castanea, is certainly over 1000 years old, but is a heavily sprouting species. Even when described in the 1700s, the original trunk was dead. Today there are living sprouts but no individual piece of wood is very old.

As for the southern oaks, The lack of tyloses in the live oaks makes it virtually impossible for trees to reach great ages. It is simply another case, like in so many other parts of the world, where size gets equated (maybe over several generations) with age.

RE: Longevity   Dee & Neil Pederson
  Oct 06, 2003 19:10 PDT 

Indeed! It is great to think about how old different trees can live.

I just have to say that I feel similar about max tree
ages/estimations/longevity as Bob feels about tree height. Though
Bob's passion about height may be a bit more than my feelings for max

I am really interested in max age of different species and don't
doubt that the better early naturalists knew a great deal more about
natural history than many of us. I try to encourage students and
other to dig through the old literature. A few people were so right
on, as Lee pointed out several months ago about Bob Marshall. Take a
look at his tree-ring papers from the late 1920s. He was decades
ahead of some important ecological ideas. Way ahead.

And, I agree with the prior comment that we may not know max age for
many species since most of the landscape has be significantly altered.

That said, some claims of max ages really need to be called into
questions like early claims of max height.

For example, there is a claim that eastern hemlock can live up to
900 years. This is may be a possibility. But, here is why I call it
in to question. Dr. Ed Cook, of the Lamont-Doherty Tree-Ring Lab,
unofficially owns many of the verified, un-extrapolated maximum ages
for many eastern US tree species. He has a great knack of finding the
oldest tree. I've only beaten him twice. The first time he went back
into that stand and cored a few trees with me. He pithed a tree and
beat me back by 1 dang year!!! He is great.

He has also cored eastern hemlock over the last 30 years over most,
if not all of its range. His sites are a Who's Who of eastern
old-growth. He has cored >1000 eastern hemlocks [with help, of
course]. The oldest eastern hemlock he has cored dates to 1425. The
official outer ring is 1978. If that tree is still alive, it is much
closer to that 600 year age that is often mentioned. From his data
set, it is likely that there is a 600 year old hemlock out there that
can be verified, but I would bet it is rare in today's landscape or
was in the landscape before hemlock wooly-adelgid. A 700 yr old
hemlock? Possibly. 900? I've discussed this often with Ed and he
thinks 900 may be pushing it. It is a possibility, though.

I do not want to dampen the enthusiasm that is so alive w/in ENTS. I
too would like to know that there are other E US species that can
live beyond 600 years than cedar, Nyssa and bald cypress. The
evidence over the last 30 years indicates that such trees would be

But, let's find those rarities [under legitimate intentions and with
proper permission, of course]! No need for excessive coring. It is
just good enough to know that there are old forests and big trees in
our landscape.


PS - after my dissertation winds down, I promise to bring forth all
of the max age data Ed has to ENTS and the OLDLIST. It is amazing.
RE: Longevity   Will Blozan
  Oct 07, 2003 21:18 PDT 
Re: Longevity Same for white oaks. Most people way over estimate white oak
ages. As an arborist, I have been able to count rings on many white oaks in
the Asheville, NC area. Almost without exception, BIG trees (14-16' cbh)
with a huge crown (120'+) with rather undifferenciated branching are 90-130
years olds, MAX. However, add some knarl and out come the ancients. One tree
in Montreat, NC (15 miles east of AVL) had a dead limb way up in the canopy
that yielded 270 rings. Another that I pruned last month had 240 rings at
60' up. I have no doubt that I have pruned white oaks 400 years old. These
trees are in people's yards!

I feel that size and age for many eastern trees is not well understood, and
the resulting ignorance yeilds astronomical misinterpretations of tree ages
(Angel oak?). The exaggerations may save a nice tree or two (good), but the
truly ancient ones get bulldozed and destroyed for yuppie, clueless,
dumb-assed 5000 ft2 houses. Michael Davie can attest to this, as can Randy
I'm sure!