by Meredith Carey, Condé Nast Traveler
This 9,550-year-old Swedish elder took root during the last Ice Age.
At just 16 feet tall, Old Tjikko is tiny compared to its 180-foot siblings on the Fulufjället Mountain in Sweden, but it has the proud stature of a great redwood -- standing a little straighter as the oldest single-stemmed clonal tree in the world. Tjikko began to sprout an estimated 9,550 years ago, when the United Kingdom was still connected to Europe by an ice bridge and glaciers were only just beginning to recede across Scandinavia. It lived anonymously until 2004, when geologist Leif Kullman discovered and named Tjikko (after his dead dog). Scientists then carbon dated the tree's root system, which is actually thousands of years older than the actual tree you see above ground. Because of the mountain's harsh weather, Tjikko survived in shrub form and has only just grown into a full-fledged tree in the last century. With a just a handful leafy branches and a slightly crooked, skinny trunk, Tjikko is the real life example of Charlie Brown's much-loved lopsided Christmas tree.
The discovery of Tjikko nudged out California's Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree from the White Mountains, as the elder statesman. At almost 5,000 years old, the gnarled Methuselah (which would fit right in at Hogwarts as the Whomping Willow) is a well-kept California Forest Service secret since, in 1964, a slightly older tree was accidentally felled by a scientist who didn't know just how old it was. While Tjikko is the oldest single-stemmed tree in the world, it behind Pando, a Utah forest made entirely of one tree's clones, covering 107 acres--and estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000 years old.
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Correction: This post originally described the roots as hundreds of thousands of years older than the tree itself, when in fact it is thousands of years older.