Let’s hear it for nature’s overworked, underpaid lifeline—the tree. Yes, especially in Canada, we love our trees. We love that palm trees signify vacations, that turning leaves tell us to pull out the sweaters, that winter holidays will always mean a balsam fir or a pine-scented candle. So we’ve rounded up some of our favourite, record-breaking trees from across the globe to pay homage to the oldest, tallest, and strangest of our oxygen-producing friends.
World’s oldest tree
Old Tjikko (9,550 years old)
Where: Fulufjallet Mountain, Dalarna Province, Sweden
Species: Norway spruce (Picea abies)
As with anything older than modern technology, there is a lot of debate about which is the oldest tree in the world. Firstly, it’s relatively recent knowledge that taller trees are not necessarily older (though the very tall ones are often very old). A sad 1964 tale that ends with an arborist discovering he had just chopped down the oldest living tree was a shocking revelation to the scientific community that tree size and age aren’t necessarily related. It is now known that the oldest trees are sometimes the smallest, gnarliest, and strangest-shaped due to the environments they have had to endure. When it comes down to deciding which is the oldest, Old Tjikko is most often mentioned as a tree whose root system started at the end of the last Ice Age. Research has now shown that the tree only started growing vertically in the past century, while the root system has been growing for nearly 10,000 years. When it was discovered in 2004, Old Tjikko stood at only 5 meters.
World’s tallest tree
Hyperion (115.6 metres tall)
Where: Redwood National Park, California, U.S.
Species: Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)
In 2006, at a time when everyone thought California had long been discovered, two scientists came across a grove of giant redwoods in Redwood National Park and found Hyperion, the World’s tallest tree, among them. California’s coastal Redwoods are widely recognized for their stature, width, and posture. Yet, the tale of the Californian Redwood is nearly akin to that of the Lorax and the Truffula Tree. At the turn of the century, taking a photograph of a group of grinning lumberjacks who had just felled a tree double the size of the Statue of Liberty was the showcase of raw manpower. Then came lumber, mass production, and the industrial revolution, and it wasn’t until around 1975 when people realized that their towering trees were at risk. Redwoods used to inhabit 2 million acres of Californian coast but it is now speculated that nearly 90% of the originals (thousands of which are believed to have been Hyperion-sized) had been clear-cut in various logging missions of the early to mid-1900s. Today, Redwoods exist primarily in state parks in California, Nevada, and Australia. The exact location of the Hyperion is unknown and remains protected to prevent human disruption or damage.
World’s wildest tree
El Arbol del Tule (9.38 metres in diameter)
Where: Santa Maria del Tule, Mexico
Species: Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum)
El Arbol de Tule is so large that it was originally thought to be multiple trees that had come together, but DNA testing has shown it is a single organism. Keeping diameter in mind as a measurement, a cross-section of the tree is roughly 2.5 average-sized car lengths. Circumference is another story. A Harvard arboretum article states that, “although the tree is not particularly tall, it takes seventeen people with outstretched arms to encircle its gigantic trunk.” Thick arbor species like the Montezuma Cypress or Baobab typically grow in canyons or deserts, and their girth is a result of the root system retaining water. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, scientific estimates have the tree clocked in at around 3,000 years old.
World’s largest tree (by volume)
General Sherman (1,486.6 m³)
Where: Sequoia National Park, Tulare County, California, U.S.
Species: Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
General Sherman is a Californian Redwood that narrowly misses other “record-breaking” categories in this series. While neither technically the tallest or widest tree on Earth, this giant Sequoia still comes in at 83 meters tall, with a 31-meter circumference. In the tree world, the ‘largest’ tree is measured by sheer volume of the main trunks and stems, excluding branches. In the nature world, this means that General Sherman is technically the largest living thing in the world, too. The tree was named after an American Civil War general in 1879 and is estimated to be anywhere from 2300 to 2700 years old.
World’s most resilient tree
The Tree of Life
Where: Jebel Dukhan, Bahrain
Species: Mesquite tree
Somehow, this lonely mesquite tree that is literally in the middle of the desert has survived more than 400 years. The tree, which has no known water supply in a vast and barren desert, looks absolutely astounding in any and all pictures. It is literally the most isolated tree in the world. Because of its appearance, mysterious survival, and location, it has been deemed “The Tree of Life” by locals who believe it is the original location of the Bible’s Garden of Eden.
World’s most colourful tree
Where: New Guinea, the Philippines, and Hawaii
Species: Rainbow eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta)
Rainbow eucalyptus trees are by far the coolest if you’re not as much into sheer size. Although native to New Guinea and the Philippines, these colourful Birch-like trees are probably most common to the North American eye in Hawaii, where they have existed since 1929. This funky tree is the only species of eucalyptus found in the Northern Hemisphere and its thin, smooth layers cannot endure a winter frost. The tree gets its natural tie-dye appearance as it sheds its outer bark in layers. Reddish-brown strips peel into bright green, which then become a darker green, through blue, purple, orange and then red again. This cyclic process means that this species of eucalyptus will never be monochromatic, hence its “rainbow” namesake.