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Outdoors

You Won’t Believe How Old These Plants Are

By Julia Hammond
Read time: 5 minutes

While the ancestors of the plants that grow on our planet today can date back millions of years, some individual plants that still exist are also impressively old. If you’re a fan of horticulture and are keen to see living history, here’s where to travel to see six of the oldest plants in the world.

The World’s Oldest Rose – Germany

Rose bushes seen through stone arch at Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany
Photo credit: dpa picture alliance/ Alamy Stock Photo

The rose plant that clings to the wall of Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany was first documented in 815 CE, which makes this flowering plant more than 1,200 years old. The Germans refer to it as the Tausendjähriger Rosenstock, meaning the “thousand year rose.” According to local lore, Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious was out hunting when he lost his cross. He later discovered it beside a rose bush, which he decided would make a fine spot for a cathedral. The rose was a wild dog rose, and it’s still here today because of its remarkable ability to survive. 

Towards the end of World War II, a direct hit on the cathedral caused it to burn, and the precious rosebush was a casualty, too. But from the ashes came a miracle: Eight weeks later, a cluster of new shoots appeared from a root buried under the debris. Each spring, it still blooms in glorious shades of pale pink.

The World’s Oldest Spruce Tree – Sweden 

Old Tjikko spruce tree in Sweden
Photo credit: Lasse Johansson/ Shutterstock

The world’s oldest living spruce tree is a Norway spruce called Old Tjikko that grows at 2,985 feet above sea level on Fulufjället, a mountain in Sweden close to the Norwegian border. Scientists have sampled its root system and estimate that it is approximately 9,860 years old. However, Old Tjikko is a clonal tree, meaning it has regenerated new trunks, roots, and branches. Its trunk is significantly younger, perhaps only around 600 years old. Researchers from Umeå University discovered the specimen while working in the area in 2004. It had previously been thought that this kind of spruce was a relative newcomer in this part of Sweden, but it may have been brought here from a different location as people migrated north. 

The World’s Heaviest Known Organism – Utah

Forest of golden aspens in Utah
Photo credit: Rafael Novais/ Shutterstock

In the heart of Utah’s Fishlake National Forest you’ll find a group of quaking aspens which turn a glorious shade of gold each fall — though that’s not the primary reason some visitors seek them out. This forest forms the heaviest growing organism in the world. Called Pando, it weighs nearly 13 million pounds and spreads over 106 acres. 

Pando’s name is Latin for “I spread,” which is precisely what it does. At first glance, the trees that comprise it appear to stand alone, yet they’re actually connected by a single root system. When one tree dies, Pando simply clones another. Scientists believe this has been going on for at least 10,000 years — since the end of the last ice age — or perhaps even longer. Unfortunately, Pando shows signs of decline, perhaps due to overgrazing by the area’s deer population, damage caused by beetles, or through disease such as root rot. The race is on to prevent further die-off.

The World’s Oldest Cultivated Orchid – Singapore 

Orchids and fountain at Singapore Botanic Garden
Photo credit: Rachael Bowes/ Alamy Stock Photo

The world’s oldest documented orchid is a specimen found in the Singapore Botanic Garden. In 1861, the garden’s manager, Lawrence Niven, planted it in its current spot, making the flowering plant more than 160 years old. This giant species is called the tiger orchid and is native to Singapore. The plant was once extinct due to habitat loss until it was reintroduced in the 1990s. 

The tiger orchid grows in large clumps, with narrow leaves that can measure up to three feet long and flower heads nearly twice that length. The coloring of its flowers is what gives the plant its popular name, as they are yellow with brown spots. 

The World’s Oldest Fruit-Producing Grapevine – Slovenia

Vines under windows of house in Slovenia
Photo credit:  Tibor Bognar/ Alamy Stock Photo

The Old Vine in Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city, produces bunches of red grapes of the Žametovka variety every October. It has been doing so for around four centuries, making this the oldest such vine in the world. The yield varies, but typically only a small amount — between 9 and 14 gallons of wine — is produced each year. Stainless steel barrels are used in the fermentation process, and the wine is left to mature for about a year and a half. 

The bottles used for the wine are equally interesting, designed by artist Oskar Kogoj with a spiral down the bottle’s neck that represents the vine’s longevity. The wine is prized more as a talking point than as something to drink and is customarily presented to visiting dignitaries. Find out more at the Old Vine House in Maribor.

The World’s Oldest Single Living Tree – California

Twisted bristlecone pine in California
Photo credit: Creative bee Maja/ Shutterstock

While there are a number of claims to the oldest tree title, the oldest verified individual living tree in the world is found in California. In 2013, scientists announced that an unnamed Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, located in Inyo National Forest near Yosemite National Park, had been verified to be 5,062 years old. Prior to that, a nearby tree named Methuselah had been the reigning champ, with an age of 4,848 years. 

There are other trees on Earth that are reportedly older than these two in California, but they are colony trees that clone and reproduce — in other words, large groups of trees that are connected by a single root system. These specimens in California are individuals, making their advanced age all the more astounding. They are considered the oldest living organisms on Earth.

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