World’s Oldest Tree in Sweden-Weathering Climate Change

Public release date: 16-Apr-2008
Swedish Research Council

Contact: Karin Wikman
karin.wikman@adm.umu.se

World’s oldest living tree discovered in Sweden

The world’s oldest recorded tree is a 9,550 year
old spruce in the Dalarna province of Sweden.

The spruce tree has shown to be a tenacious
survivor that has endured by growing between
erect trees and smaller bushes in pace with the
dramatic climate changes over time.

For many years the spruce tree has been regarded
as a relative newcomer in the Swedish mountain
region.

“Our results have shown the complete opposite,
that the spruce is one of the oldest known trees
in the mountain range,” says Leif Kullman,
Professor of Physical Geography at Umeå
University.

A fascinating discovery was made under the crown
of a spruce in Fulu Mountain in Dalarna.
Scientists found four “generations” of spruce
remains in the form of cones and wood produced
from the highest grounds.

The discovery showed trees of 375, 5,660, 9,000
and 9,550 years old and everything displayed
clear signs that they have the same genetic
makeup as the trees above them. Since spruce
trees can multiply with root penetrating braches,
they can produce exact copies, or clones.

The tree now growing above the finding place and
the wood pieces dating 9,550 years have the same
genetic material. The actual has been tested by
carbon-14 dating at a laboratory in Miami,
Florida, USA.

Previously, pine trees in North America have been
cited as the oldest at 4,000 to 5,000 years old.

In the Swedish mountains, from Lapland in the
North to Dalarna in the South, scientists have
found a cluster of around 20 spruces that are
over 8,000 years old.

Although summers have been colder over the past
10,000 years, these trees have survived harsh
weather conditions due to their ability to push
out another trunk as the other one died.

“The average increase in temperature during the
summers over the past hundred years has risen one
degree in the mountain areas,” explains Leif
Kullman.

Therefore, we can now see that these spruces have
begun to straighten themselves out. There is also
evidence that spruces are the species that can
best give us insight about climate change.

The ability of spruces to survive harsh
conditions also presents other questions for
researchers.

Have the spruces actually migrated here during
the Ice Age as seeds from the east 1,000
kilometres over the inland ice that that then
covered Scandinavia? Do they really originate
from the east, as taught in schools? “My research
indicates that spruces have spent winters in
places west or southwest of Norway where the
climate was not as harsh in order to later
quickly spread northerly along the ice-free
coastal strip,” says Leif Kullman.

“In some way they have also successfully found
their way to the Swedish mountains.”
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The study has been carried out in cooperation
with the County Administrative Boards in Jämtland
and Dalarna.

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