The world's oldest individual clonal tree looks like a wimp despite standing tall for 9,550 years.
(Update: In February 2023, a mountain guide who had visited Old Tjikko recently told Sweden’s national broadcaster SVT that unusually heavy snow had broken off the top portion of the tree. While the damage has left the spruce looking particularly rough, Old Tjikko will survive: The majority of the tree, including the most ancient parts of its root system, is underground.)
Growing high atop Sweden’s Fulufajallet Mountain is a Norway Spruce that sure doesn’t look like much—but this little tree is an estimated 9,550 years old, and goes by the name of Old Tjikko.
Located in Fulufjallet National Park, Old Tjikko began growing in this harsh tundra shortly after the glaciers receded from Scandinavia at the close of the last ice age. To put that into perspective, this lowly shrub was growing as humans learned to plow fields, domesticate the cat, and—2,000 years after it first took root—our ancestors begin learning to smelt copper.
Though the tree may have spent millennia as a shrub before the climate warmed enough for it to grow into the spindly tree we see today, scientists had a hunch Old Tjikko was part of an ancient clonal organism. When setting out to establish the tree’s exact age, they carbon-dated the roots system beneath the tree itself, revealing the true age of Old Tjikko. Researchers have also found in this area a cluster of about 20 spruce trees, all of them over 8,000 years old.
To add even more to the charm of this scraggly nine thousand-year-old tree, Old Tjikko was named after discoverer Leif Kullman’s dog.
Know Before You Go
Though a small, unmarked path, leading through the park to the tree exists, rangers much prefer to lead interested visitors on a guided tour from the Naturum's entrance to the base of the tree for the sake of environmental preservation. The best option to visit the tree is to join a tour run by the National Park authorities, Wednesday through Friday from July to August. The tour needs to be booked at least one day in advance.
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