Ask a Scientist: Rachel the Botanist

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What is the oldest living thing? What is the largest living thing? Find out on our first episode of Ask a Scientist a Question! Heather interviews Rachel Jones, a botanist who works at CSU.


The oldest individual living organism is a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in the White mountains of Nevada/California. The exact location is kept secret to protect the tree, but the tree’s name is Methuselah and it’s about 4850 years old [1].
[1] source:

Hmm, you may be thinking of a large colony of fungi (specifically Armillaria ostoyae) in Oregon. Whether you consider this the largest organism depends on a couple definitions: this “humongous fungus” is a colony of genetically identical mushrooms which are all connected. It is certainly reasonable to call them a “single organism”, and by that measure this is most likely the largest living thing by biomass. This colony probably weighs somewhere between 7600 and 35000 tons [2]! However, fungi are not plants!
[2] source:

The tree with the highest volume of wood in its trunk is a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) located in Sequoia National Park, California. You can actually go visit this tree! I have, and it was literally awesome. The tree’s name is General Sherman, and its trunk contains about 52,500 cu ft of wood (~1500 m^3) [3].
[3] source:

Indeed! And the tallest tree is actually located nearby, in Redwood National Park, California, the precise location is kept secret (again, for the tree’s safety). This tree, a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) named Hyperion, and it is about 380 feet (~116 m) tall [4][4] source: