Gran Abuelo in Chile could be world’s oldest living tree

In a secluded valley in southern Chile, a lone alerce tree stands above the canopy of an ancient forest.

Green shoots sprout from the crevices in its thick, dark trunks, huddled like the pipes of a great cathedral organ, and water streams down its lichen-streaked bark on to the forest floor from bulbous knots in the wood.

“It was like a waterfall of green, a great presence before me,” remembers the climate scientist Jonathan Barichivich, 41, of the first time he encountered the Gran Abuelo, or “great-grandfather”, tree as a child.

Barichivich grew up in Alerce Costero national park, 500 miles (800km) south of the capital, Santiago. It is home to hundreds of alerces, Fitzroya cupressoides, slow-growing conifers native to the cold, wet valleys of the southern Andes.

“I never thought about how old the Gran Abuelo could be,” he said. “Records don’t really interest me.” However, Barichivich’s groundbreaking study has shown the 100ft (30-metre) giant could be the world’s oldest living tree.

In January 2020, he visited the Gran Abuelo with his mentor and friend, the dendrochronologist Antonio Lara, to take a core sample from the trunk.

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