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Trees that live the longest

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From providing shade and shelter to animals and humans to helping clean the air for us, trees are an integral piece of our ecosystems. Aside from providing these important elements, trees are also admired for their beauty and appreciated as symbols of permanence. Most trees we encounter have been on Earth long before us and will remain after we’re gone. 

Of all the species of trees on Earth, some live exceptionally long lives. Bristlecone pines, yew trees, and ginkgo are a few of the trees that live the longest — often for thousands of years. Douglas firs and redwoods have also been known to live for up to 1,000 years. Read more to learn what trees can live the longest.

How long can a tree live?

The longest known living tree is thought to be over 4,789 years old — a Great Basin bristlecone pine named Methuselah in the White Mountains of California. In Europe, the oldest tree is the Llangernyw Yew in Wales, which experts believe is between 4,000 and 5,000 years old. The Alerce Milenario or “Gran Abuelo” in Chile is another one of the world’s oldest trees thought to have started growing in 1,630 BC.

What trees can live the longest?

The lifespan of a tree varies greatly depending on its species. Some of the longest-living species have adapted to withstand a broad range of temperatures and weather conditions. Let’s take a look at some of the most common trees in the U.S. and how long they live.

Birch — 80-140 years

Birch trees are commonly found in the northern portion of the U.S., as well across much of Europe. They have a distinctive papery bark and thrive in cool climates. The birch has a lifespan a little longer than a human, typically living around 100 years.

Aspen — 70-100 years

Trees that live the longest - Aspen

Quaking aspen is the most widely distributed type of tree in the U.S. and Canada. Its tree life is usually 70-100 years old, although they can live up to 150 years. Aspens grow in “clones” or groups of trees that have identical characteristics and share roots. The largest clone is called “Pando” and is growing in Utah and has been aged at 80,000 years old. Aspens get the name “quaking aspen” from the beautiful sound the leaves make when rippling in the wind.

Maple — 100-400 years

There are several varieties of maple trees and the life span depends on which type it is. Thriving in cooler climates, these trees can live up to 400 years. Red maples live between 130 and 200 years while a silver maple lives for 100 to 125 years. The tree life of a sugar maple is up to 400 years. Maples are well-loved for their beautiful color they offer in the fall.

Trees that live the longest - Striped Maple

Ponderosa pine — 500+ years

A tall and majestic tree, the Ponderosa pine can be found all across the U.S., especially in the southwest. You can recognize a “young” tree (less than 150 years old) by its almost black bark, which turns to a rust orange as the tree ages. Its thick, fire-resistant bark is one reason why the Ponderosa pine has such a long tree life. 

Oak — 1,000+ years

Oaks are wide-growing trees with thick, sturdy trunks, which means they can live incredibly long lives. The oldest individual oak tree in the U.S. is the Pechanga Great Oak Tree in Temecula, California. It’s thought to be around 2,000 years old. Amazingly, there’s also an oak tree in the Jurupa Mountains in California that’s lived for over 13,000 years — by cloning itself. The Jurupa Oak is a clonal colony, which means it’s a colony of trees with the same DNA. It’s stood in the same ancient spot since before the last Ice Age.

Trees that live the longest - Bur Oak

Read more: How to become a tree when you die

Douglas fir — 1,000+ years

You might know Douglas fir as a Christmas tree — but in the wild, they live for many years. Douglas firs have a tree life of over 1,000 years and grow beyond 180 feet. This evergreen tree reproduces through its distinctive pinecones and offers a woodsy scent.

Redwood — 1,000+ years

There are three types of redwoods: coast redwoods, giant sequoias, and dawn redwoods. In the U.S., redwoods are typically found in California. The name comes from the distinctive reddish color of their bark. Not only can the individual trees live over 1,000 years, but as species, they have been around for millions of years.

Read more: Symbolism of trees: spiritual meanings across history

Yew —1,000+ years

Some species of yew can live for over 2,000 years, making them some of the oldest trees in the world. The Pacific yew is native the Pacific Northwest, growing from California to Alaska. In Washington state, what’s thought to have been the oldest Pacific yew tree in the country died in 2021 at the age of 410 years old.

Spend your eternity among the trees

The longevity of trees is what draws many people to the idea of a memorial tree. It provides a spot for loved ones to come and honor your memory for years to come. You can find many of the tree species listed above in our forests across the U.S., from redwoods in California to sugar maples in Massachusetts. Discover your perfect resting place through our forest index.

Read more: Understanding remembrance and memorial trees

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