Italus – Viggianello, Italy - Atlas Obscura
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Viggianello, Italy

Italus

The oldest scientifically dated tree in Europe lives on a remote cliff.  

Italus is a Heldreich’s pine (also known as a Bosnian pine), and for 1,230 years or so it has been growing on a cliff in Italy, not far from Naples. The tree is named after a king who ruled this region back in the Late Bronze Age.

A team of scientists spent three years looking for aged trees to study, and Pollino National Park, where Italus lives, has many examples of trees that have lived for hundreds of years. When they saw Italus, they knew this tree was remarkable.

Dating Italus was tricky. Inside the tree, much of its core wood has disintegrated, which made it impossible to using tree ring dating techniques. Instead, they relied on a combination of techniques, including examining the tree’s root wood and using radiocarbon dating, to come up with a date when the roots would have formed: the year 789. 

That makes Italus the oldest scientifically dated tree in Europe. There are other trees that could be older but that scientists haven’t examined with such care. There are also clonal trees—most notably Old Tjikko, in Sweden—that have a longer history. The root system beneath Old Tjikko’s trunk has been around for close to 10,000 years, but the trunk that’s growing now is only few hundred years old. 

Italus, though, is a more traditional tree. Much of its crown has died, but parts of the tree are still alive. If they die, the whole tree dies. However, the scientists who discovered Italus believe the tree could survive for many years to come; after all, it’s made it for this long. 

Know Before You Go

This tree is in a remote area, and finding it could be a challenge. The park has many old trees and patches of old-growth forest and is worth a visit on its own merits.