Researchers studying a remote section of the Pindos mountains in northern Greece have discovered a grove of ancient trees untouched for more than 1,000 years. The dozen millennium-old trees, all Bosnian pines, include one specimen that first set down roots at least 1,075 years ago.
That makes it the oldest officially dated tree in all of Europe.
“It is quite remarkable that this large, complex and impressive organism has survived so long in such an inhospitable environment, in a land that has been civilized for over 3,000 years,” expedition leader Paul J. Krusic said in a statement.
Krusic, an expert in tree-ring dating or dendrochronology, was intrigued to help launch an expedition to the Pindos mountains after reading a thesis about the unusual forest years. Old trees are useful in his study of ancient tree-ring data to help track changes in climate, so when the opportunity arose to visit the Grecian highlands, he jumped at the chance.
"In the thesis, there were photographs of these amazingly contorted trees," he told The Washington Post. "They looked an awful lot like trees I'd seen along the Great Basin in the U.S., which are very old. They lived in almost a similar environment, very rocky, semiarid, so they had all of the hallmarks one would expect for an old tree."
To understand the age of the oldest tree, the team of researchers from the University of Arizona, University of Mainz, and University of Stockholm, extracted a harmless core sample measuring only 5 millimeters in diameter. They then laboriously counted the rings to arrive at the tree's record-breaking lifespan. According to Krusic, the tree — nicknamed "Adonis" — is likely much older.
"We actually didn't reach the center," he added to the Post, noting that the core sample was not taken from the tree's massive base. "So it's definitely older. We're just reporting the actual ring count."
While there are likely older trees in Europe, many of them are only estimated in age and have not yet been verified from ring count. In terms of the world's oldest trees, Adonis is a practical youngster when compared to the Great Basin bristlecone pine (5,000 years) in California's White Mountains or the Sacred Fig (2,300 years) in Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, this grove's preservation across a millennium of change and growing pressures from humans in the region is remarkable.“I am impressed, in the context of western civilization, all the human history that has surrounded this tree; all the empires, the Byzantine, the Ottoman, all the people living in this region,” Krusic added in the press release. “So many things could have led to its demise. Fortunately, this forest has been basically untouched for over a thousand years.”