Methuselah Tree – Big Pine, California - Atlas Obscura

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Methuselah Tree

Ancient Bristlecone National Forest
Big Pine, California

Once thought to be the oldest living tree in the world, Methuselah was germinated before the Egyptian pyramids were built. 


An ancient 4,800-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine, the Methuselah Tree grows high in the White Mountains of eastern California.

Named after the Biblical figure that lived for 969 years, the Methuselah Tree grows in the Methuselah Grove, which is in Inyo National Forest’s “Forest of Ancients,” where it is surrounded by other ancient trees. The exact location of the tree, though, is kept secret to protect it against vandalism.

When Edmund Schulman and Tom Harlan took samples from the famous tree in 1957, they discovered it was 4,789 years old. It is estimated that the tree germinated in 2832 B.C., making Methuselah one of the oldest known living trees and non-clonal organisms in the entire world. A germination date of 2832 B.C. makes Methuselah older even than the Egyptian Pyramids. It has just a bit longer to hold on until it is older than Prometheus, another bristlecone specimen that was 4,844 years old when accidentally destroyed in 1964.

Upon visiting the tree, Robert Mohlenbrock, a professor of botany at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, thought “that any organism that lived longer than the norm had to have optimal conditions going for it … that would mean moderate temperatures, shelter from extreme weather, and plenty of moisture and nutrients.” He was wrong. Methuselah lives in a nasty place - for a tree. There are just patches of soil at the tree’s extreme elevation and fierce winds blow. The Bristlecone Pine is perfectly adapted to the semi-arid boreal climate in which it lives.

Methuselah is now the second-oldest tree in the world after the recent discovery of a small Norway Spruce in the Swedish arctic that has been proven to be roughly 9,500 years old, it is endearingly referred to as Old Tjikko.

Know Before You Go

The Ancient Bristlecone National Forest is at high elevations. The visitor center and Schulman Grove (where Methuselah is located) is between 9,500 and 9,800 feet above sea level. The Patriarch Grove, 13 miles farther down a dirt road, is above 11,000 feet above sea level. Take your time on the trails as even fit people may feel dizzy and out of breath at such altitudes.

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