Tree Age Overestimates  James Parton


Until very recently I thought the oldest trees in the Eastern US was a
grove of bald cypress along the Black River near Wilmington NC that
have been reported at 1700 years or so. Followed by Charleston's Angel
Oak at 1.400 years. However the Senator Bald cypress near Orlando
Florida is believed by many to be between 3000/3500 years old. Is this
the oldest known tree in the east? It definitely looks impressive.

James Parton


If you don't mind me shooting from the hip, I seriously doubt that the
Angel Oak is 1,400 years old. I can't see any live oak reaching those
ages. Could be wrong.

As for the Senator cypress, it is surely the most awesome cypress I've
ever laid eyes on. As to the reputed age of 3000 years old, that
sounds way high to me. I wonder if David Stahle has ever visited it?

Those N.C. trees are much smaller in diameter than the Senator.  I
believe that has something to do with the type of river they are
located on, which is a pretty nutrient starved one. Maybe someone here
can explain the difference in  black-water/brown-water rivers, and
their resulting nutrient levels.

Gary Smith
   You have to take these off-ENTS proclamations with about a ton of salt. Dr. Neil Pederson of this list can give you a realistic appraisal of the Senator's age. More on the subject of tree statistics and their reliability in a later post.



I think the ages of those trees are WAY overestimated. Clueless folks get a
number in print and it is perpetuated ad nauseum (like 200 foot beeches,
260' white pines, etc.). Live oaks are fairly fast growing, especially when
in full sun with a huge crown. I have long thought all that is needed to
settle the ridiculous claim of 1400 years for the Angel Oak would be to pull
a core from one of the low limbs to age it. However, there is likely no one
on earth strong enough to core the tree and as a diffuse porous and
indistinct ring-forming species the age may not be able to be determined

I have seen the Senator- truly awesome but would never estimate it to be
3500 years old. Big trees are not necessarily old- they just grow like hell
on a good site and have survived being blown down or otherwise disturbed. A
7 foot diameter white oak in Asheville was believed to be 450 years old, yet
the lowest limb on the tree was 125 years old. The age was extrapolated from
a short core. A huge walnut in Asheville was thought to be over 150 years
old; a limb removed from it indicated it could not be over 50. Oaks long
thought to be historic witnesses to events long ago are found to be far
younger than the event itself when they die and the rings are counted. I
think there is a rather famous case of an oak in Connecticut being called
the Charter Oak- thought to the very tree something was signed under long
ago. When the tree died it was found to have not even been an acorn at the
time of the event!

To me, the Angel Oak and the Senator Cypress represent vigorous trees on
excellent sites with continuously benign environmental impacts- likely
analogous to the giant hemlocks Jess and I have been documenting in the
Smokies. They are not older than other specimens- just growing well and a
product of ideal site conditions.

BTW- I had an employee several years ago who installed lightning protection
on the Senator Cypress. You will notice there is no conductor cable visible
on the trunk- this is because it is installed inside the tree. He rappelled
down from the hollow top all the way to ground level.

From several examples in the Live Oak Project we have found that 300
years is about the ages of the largest Live Oaks. Some may be 400, but
I doubt any are 1400.   

Larry Tucei

The Senator is a gorgeous tree. If you get the chance to be in that
area, don't miss out on a visit. If you go in warm weather, take a
bottle of DEET. Last time I went the mosquitos tried to carry us off.
Ended up with only a pint or so of my blood.

 Thanks Will - I think you summed it up very well. Many people equate tree size to age, but do not consideration how the tree got so big. As Will points out, it often seems these trees are growing in fairly ideal situations and out-perform most others of the same species. The senator cypress could be  old. It is  a possibility. But, 3500 yrs sounds unlikely, especially considering the oldest one is a little over 1600 yrs above the root flare. [Funny, I just got an email last week about this same age estimate.]

 As for the live oaks being more than 1400 yrs old, that seems much, much less likely. An investigations of a few live oaks at an institution I used to work at showed live oaks could reach  somewhere around 2' in diameter in ~ 90 yrs. The live oak Larry sent to me last yr reached ~ 4.2' in diameter in ~ 134 yrs.

 In the eastern North America, there are no known broadleaf species that live more than 700 yrs. Nyssa sylvatica is the closest with an age of 679.

 However, a recent paper has been published showing a baobab [ Adansonia digitata] radiocarbon dated to ~ 1200 yrs:

Patrut, A, K F. von Reden, D.A. Lowy, A.H. Alberts, J.W. Pohlman, R. Wittmann, D. Gerlach, L. Xu and C.S. Mitchell. 2007. Radiocarbon dating of a very large African baobab. Tree Physiology 27, 1569-1574.

 Hope this helps,

 neil pederson