When we talk about the age of things, we tend to talk about monuments like Stonehenge or the Pyramids at Giza, ancient human structures that have survived for thousands of years because they were feared ore revered long before they were legally protected. They are considered works of art.
We don’t usually talk about things in nature, except perhaps mountains, in similar terms. But some organisms, like trees, can live for extremely long times. There is a tree in Greece, for example, which is 1,074 years old, making it the oldest living thing in Europe.
Called Adonis, after the ancient Greek god of beauty and desire, the tree is one of about a dozen millennial trees in a large, more-or-less untouched forest in the Pindos Mountains. It’s not a terribly generous area for trees to live in, which is part of what makes Adonis, and trees like it, so fascinating. Considering how long humans have lived in the area, and how many times the area has been invaded or conquered, it’s amazing that the tree is still standing.
Like our own elders, Adonis can tell us a lot about the past.
It was discovered by researchers specifically looking for ancient trees in order to take core samples, so that they can learn about how the climate in a given region has changed over time. Trees grow in rings, which allow us to figure out how old they are, but those rings can tell us a lot more, too. They can tell us what kind of nutrients the tree had in a given year, as well as what the temperature or ambient moisture was like.
By looking at tree rings, especially from trees as old as Adonis, we can learn a lot about what the climate was like at different points, and how much it has changed.