A scientific article points out that although the signs of senescence in long-lived trees are almost imperceptible, it does not mean that they are immortal.

An archival photo of the ancient olive tree of Vouves in Crete, Greece.

A slow growth, a great capacity for regeneration and a lot of tolerance and resilience before him environmental stress are the key factors that explain the longevity extreme of ancient trees from around the world. This is confirmed by an article published in the magazine Trends in Plant Science by Professor Sergi Munné Bosch, from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio).

Methuselah, a specimen of Pinus longicornis from more than 5,000 years, It is found in the Inyo National Forest (United States) and is considered the oldest tree on the entire planet. In Iran, the Abarkuh cypress is over 4,000 years old. The Vouves olive tree, the most emblematic millennial specimen of the species, are also great giants of survival. Olea europaea (Crete) and the chestnut tree of the Hundred Horses (Sicily).

These survivors millennials from ancestral forests around the planet “are an excellent model of tolerance and resilience to stress,” says Munné-Bosch. “Specifically – he says – they are considered an exception within the respective species on a population scale and are models that help us better understand the importance of interindividual variability in adaptive processes.”

Slow growth

In the plant world, great resilience and tolerance to stress (extreme temperatures, lack of nutrients, drought, etc.) are always linked to slower growths, greater regeneration capacity and more longevity. In the case of the oldest trees on the planet, this highly efficient ecophysiological response to external factors is added to a modular growth pattern and a great capacity to regenerate and maintain. sleeping structures –Like buds– that can restart plant growth during the specimen’s life cycle.

The modular growth cycles of ancient trees are sustained around the trunk, and this “gives them a greater robustness and the ability to survive longer ”, says the researcher. The trunk “is made up of more than 99% dead tissues, and the xylem – a set of vessels in vascular tissue – is also completely dead. The living tissues that make up the phloem –the conducting vessel of the elaborated sap– and the vascular cambium are highly protected by the tree’s bark ”.

Herbaceous and shrubs are also perennials that can be very long-lived. With more than three hundred years, the Borderea pyrenaica -a endemic plant of the Pyrenees– It is the herbaceous with the longevity described so far. As a survival strategy, this terrestrial phanerogam sustains its cyclical growth periods on a tuber.

Longevity and senescence

The great capacity of perennial plants to survive in nature is a scientific reference to study the mechanisms related to longevity and senescence. Its potential longevity is so extraordinary that the plant usually dies from external factors long before any can be observed. physiological decline associated with aging.

“This is very easy to understand in the case of ancient trees. The probability of dying of any organism, no matter how tolerant and resilient it may be to stress, increases over time. For reasons of chance, it is really very difficult for any organism to survive so many years to different external threats ”, clarifies Munné Bosch.

Over time, structural limitations they are the main cause of the functional decline of the oldest plant species.

“A tree may reach its maximum height depending on its genome and the environmental conditions of its natural habitat. Later, it will be able to extend its longevity by means of new branches and generating new branches when it suffers damage. But all that has a limit. When the vascular tissue that connects the roots with the aerial part (xylem) or the sources of photoassimilates with their sinks (phloem) suffer considerable damage, the plant will finally die ”, concludes the researcher.