Sunday, April 24, 2016

World's oldest tree turns 4,847: top-secret site

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Seth Auberon, Wisdom Quarterly; New York Times;
General Sherman Tree, Sequoia Nat'l Park: largest living organism in the world (Jim Bahn).

The world's oldest documented tree in the world grew from a cutting from the "Tree of Wisdom" Siddhartha sat under to become the Buddha, the "Awakened One."
That tree, which helped him reach enlightenment (bodhi), is called the Bodhi Tree. It would be 2,600 to 3,000 years old but technically is no more. Functionally it is still there, and you too can sit under it.

Yggdrasil (like Buddhist Mt. Sumeru)
A cutting from this sacred fig (Ficus religiosa) was given as a gift by the enlightened brother and sister Buddhist-missionary team of Mahinda and Sanghamitta, the monastic-offspring of Indian Emperor Asoka.

It lives in Sri Lanka because the marauding Muslims (Islamists) destroyed the original in Bodh Gaya ("Enlightenment Grove") India on the assumption that people were "worshipping" a tree, which runs counter to Islamic teachings.

We've seen it. It's very wide and green and occasionally sprouts an all white leaf, which is taken to be a very auspicious sign. It is revered and well watered. It is so well taken care of that a sapling from it was returned to India and planted at the presumed site of the original.

Meditation under the bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India 2011 (Amos Chapple/UNESCO)
The alleged site of the great enlightenment
This means anyone can travel to Bihar, India and take a tuk-tuk into Old Bodh Gaya (Buddha Gaya) to see an amazing site -- every kind of temple from every Buddhist country around the world surrounding the Maha Bodhi Temple, the "Great Enlightenment Monument," a tower next to a tree born of the original tree. A strange site will almost certainly greet one: Tibetan Buddhists doing 100,000 prostrations in front of the tree on worn wooden slats.

Tibetan monks gather in Bodh Gaya.
One does not normally think of Himalayan Buddhists of the Vajrayana school as being so austere and devotional. But there they bend like maroon-clad oil derricks on carrom tables.

But California is, in fact, home to what are thought to be the oldest trees. The bristlecone pines growing between the Sierra Mountains and Death Valley desert are very old, so old they look dead, petrified and broken. Yet, they live and sprout green buds.

Bristlecone pine Prometheus at Great Basin Grove, Wheeler Peak in distance (wikipedia)
Portion of oldest tree in the world (USFS)
The tallest tree is also in California, which exist in the old growth forests close to Oregon at an undisclosed location, were found by guys who had to invent equipment to climb and measure their height. From up top other tall tree can be seen penetrating the canopy.

If they revealed the location, people would visit, trouble would ensue, someone might cut it down or damage it, such as greedy loggers. To be so tall, redwoods or sequoias, they must be very old. The great sequoia groves of Yosemite and Sequoia National Park are very old as well.

But what tree is now the "world's oldest"?

World's oldest tree turns 4,847 this year and is in a top-secret location
Methuselah Grove: forest of gnarled bristlecone pine trees in sandy soil, Inyo, California.

Even if people have laid eyes on the world's oldest tree, there's a good chance they didn't realize it.

That's because the United States Forest Service keeps all information about the 4,847-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine -- including its exact location -- completely under wraps to protect it from any potential vandals, loggers, and researchers who may be interested in chopping it down [or drilling out core samples to count the rings vertically].

The tree, known as Methuselah, is rumored to be located somewhere on a mountain in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, part of Inyo National Forest in California. Even with that hint, searchers would be hard pressed to find the tree, however. The Forest Service refuses to release even as much as a picture of the tree out of fear that may happen.

An ancient, still living, bristlecone pine growing in Bryce Canyon (Maximowiczsa/wiki)
While it might sound zany to be so protective over a tree, the Forest Service admittedly has good reason. New York Times reports that the world's former oldest-known tree, an ancient pine in Nevada's Great the Basin National Park, got chopped down by a graduate student in 1964:
There are a few accounts of what happened: The student, Donald R. Currey, said in a PBS documentary that the normal approach to coring a tree was not working and that he wasn't experienced enough to know what to do, so he cut it down with the help of some foresters. Members of the forest service said he got his drill bit stuck in the tree, and so he and the foresters cut it down to remove his tool [New York Times].
Read more about the world's oldest tree -- and the possibility of finding an even older tree -- over at the New York Times.

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