One of the oldest organisms on Earth just died in a fire

For us humans, 100 years is a long time. 100 years ago, the Ottoman Empire was still going strong, and we'd only just discovered vitamins. Some trees, however, can live for thousands of years, and one of the oldest single organisms on the entire planet died in a fire in Florida just a week ago.

The Senator, as it's been known since 1927, is (or rather, was) a pond cypress tree in Florida. It was 125 feet tall, 17 feet across at its base, and was about 3,500 years old up until January 16th. 3,500 years is a stupendously long time. If you were alive 3,500 years ago, when this tree was young, you'd be taking part in the bronze age and watching the Egyptians build giant tourist attractions.

Despite having survived hurricanes, termites, beavers, and eventually loggers and vandals for 35 centuries straight, The Senator caught fire and burned to a crisp in the middle of January. The blaze apparently started inside the tree (ruling out arson), and was likely caused by either a lingering ember from a lightning strike or friction caused by branches moving in high winds. Still, it's a little bit crazy that this plant which had been doing perfectly fine since the Exodus happened to die just last month.

At 3,500 years (give or take), The Senator was about the fifth oldest tree in the world. The very oldest tree was a Bristlecone Pine named Prometheus which was 4,862 years old as of 1964 when we cut it down to figure out how old it was. It has a neighbor named Methuselah (still alive) with an age of 4,842 years that's currently the oldest living tree. 4,800 years ago, for the record, was about the same time as a giant asteroid probably plowed into the Indian ocean, leaving an undersea crater 18 miles across and sending megatsunamis racing across the globe. Don't remember that? Yeah, neither does anyone else, 'cause that's how long ago it was.

While trees are the longest living individuals on Earth, organisms that clone themselves can live far, far longer. For example, there's a colony of a single male aspen tree in Utah that's been cloning itself for an estimated 80,000 years. Technically, there are many individual aspen trees that live normal aspen lifespans, but the underlying root system simply keeps on growing new trees when the old ones die. And as for what was going on 80,000 years ago, um, that's like a couple tens of thousands of years before humans even started acting like humans. Crazy.

Via The Daily

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