The Geldreich pine found in the south of Italy grows on the mountainside in the national park for 1230 years. This is the oldest tree from the documented in Europe.
Moreover, the ancient pine still has not lost its signs of life, and its rings indicate that in the last decades the tree had a growth spurt.
The discovery shows that some trees can remain alive for centuries, even when exposed to extreme climate changes. This pine, for example, grew during the cold period of the Middle Ages, and then in a hotter period, including periods of drought.
According to the research team, an analysis of its development over centuries of change will help scientists better understand how forests in general can respond to modern climate changes.
Gianluca Piovesan from the University of Tuscia and his colleagues found the pine on a steep rocky slope in the mountains of the Pollino National Park. The tree looked very old, but it was not easy to determine its exact age. The central part of the pine, which was supposed to contain the oldest rings, was absent.
“The interior of the tree looked like dust – we’ve never seen anything like it. At least 20 centimeters of wood that would have kept the history of the past was simply not there, “says team member Alfredo Di Filippo. The roots were in the best condition, so the team decided to learn the age of the tree with their help, using a new method.
Although both the trunk and the roots have annual rings, they can develop at different rates. To cope with this task, researchers have been helped by radiocarbon traces. On them the team was able to determine the rings in the samples of the root and trunk, formed at one time, and to reveal the rings that are missing in the trunk.
“The age of the tree is impressive, given the dense human population that has formed in the region over the past millennia,” says Oliver Conter of the University of Mainz in Germany who discovered a 1,075-year-old pine in northern Greece, previously considered the oldest known in Europe.
Forest areas are now widely exploited by people. But remote areas, where the ancient pines were preserved, survived due to the hard-to-reach landscape.
The park grows thousands of Geldreich pine trees, but most of them are from 500 to 600 years old. The team found only three others, which are probably older than a millennium. As scientists note, trees owe their vitality to unique biology. Unlike animals, they do not have an aging program, so they are virtually immortal. Conifers that grow slowly live longer than others in part because they remain small for long periods of their life. This makes them less vulnerable to extreme events such as droughts and storms.
External influences are the only threat to the tree. In addition, old trees can be considered alive when only parts of them are alive. For example, most of the crown of the found pine is dead, but it can continue to live in this state for many centuries.