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Marsha Maxwell

Pando: Earth's Oldest Tree

By August 8, 2010

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After years of bad experiences trying to grow them in my yard, I've come to think of Utah as a hostile environment for trees. However, I recently learned from Vanessa Richins, About.com's guide to Trees and Shrubs, that the oldest tree on earth is an 80,000-year-old stand of quaking aspens nicknamed Pando (Latin for "I spread"), growing in the Fishlake National Forest about 200 miles south of Salt Lake City. In addition to being the world's oldest tree, Pando is also considered the world's oldest and heaviest organism.

Aspen trees reproduce by sending up new stems from a single root system. Rarely, they will also germinate from seeds. All of Pando's estimated 47,000 individual trees are genetic clones with an average age of 130 years, but the root system is 80,000 years old, based on estimates of when climatic conditions were last favorable for germination. Some scientists dispute the 80,000 year estimate and contend that Pando's roots may be as many as a million years old.

I've always loved aspens for their straight, white trunks, their "eyes," and the whispering sound their leaves make in the breeze. Walking or biking through a stand of aspens seems to have an instant calming effect on the soul. Now I have an even greater respect for these ancient organisms, knowing they will probably outlast us all.

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Photo by Joseph Sohm, Visions of America

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