A recently documented group of bald cypresses in North Carolina, which includes a tree of at least 2,624 years, are the oldest living trees known in eastern North America and the oldest wetland tree species in the world.
David Stahle, a distinguished professor of geosciences, along with colleagues from the university's former bald cypress consortium and other conservation groups, discovered the trees in 2017 in a wetland forest reserve along the Black River south of Raleigh, North Carolina . Stahle documented the age of the trees using dendrochronology, the study of tree rings and carbon dating of the radio. Their findings were published on May 9 in the journal. Communications of environmental research.
The ancient trees are part of an intact ecosystem that spans most of the 65-mile long Negro River. In addition to their age, trees are a scientifically valuable means of reconstructing ancient climatic conditions. The oldest trees in the reserve extend the paleoclimate record in the southeastern United States for 900 years, and show evidence of droughts and floods during colonial and pre-colonial times that surpbad any measure in modern times.
"It's extremely unusual to see a group of old trees along a river like this," Stahle said. "The bald cypresses are valuable for wood and have been heavily felled, much less than 1 percent of the original virgin bald cypress forests have survived."
Stahle has been working in the area since 1985 and cataloged 1,700-year-old bald cypresses in a 1988 study published in the journal Science. His work helped preserve the area, of which 16,000 acres have been purchased by The Nature Conservancy, a private conservation group that keeps most of its properties open to the public.
"Dr. Stahle's original work on the Black River, which showed trees dating back to Roman times, inspired us to begin conservation in the Negro more than two decades ago," said Katherine Skinner, executive director of The North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "This ancient forest gives us an idea of what the North Carolina coastal plain looked like millennia ago, it is a source of inspiration and an important ecosystem, without Dr. Stahle, it would have been left unprotected and probably destroyed."
For the most recent study, the researchers used non-destructive core samples from 110 trees found in a section of the wetland forest they had not previously visited. "The area of the old bald cypress was 10 times bigger than I thought," Stahle said. "We believe there are still older trees."
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Materials provided by University of Arkansas. Original written by Bob Whitby. Note: The content can be edited by style and length.