One bald cypress along the Black River is at least 2,624 years old, making it the fifth oldest tree on Earth. And it's not alone.

By Meghan Overdeep
May 10, 2019

A bald cypress tree along the Black River in southeastern North Carolina is more than 1,000 years older than Shakespeare's first play—older than the English language even.

Scientists documenting the ages of the flooded forest's bald cypress have discovered a tree whose annual growth rings show it to be at least 2,624 years old, making it the fifth oldest tree on Earth and even more ancient than Christianity.

And it's not alone. According to the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Communications, a nearby cypress is at least 2,088 years old. And scientists believe that even more 2,000-plus-year-old trees live along the 66-mile-long Bladen County stream. The tallest, their tops made flat by centuries of storms, stand 90 feet tall.

Charlie Peek

The trees all live in Three Sisters Swamp, land privately owned and protected by the Nature Conservancy in North Carolina. Researchers only cored and dated a small fraction of the tens of thousands of bald cypresses still present in these wetlands—110 to be exact.

"There are surely multiple trees over 2,000-year-old trees at Black River," Professor David Stahle of the University of Arkansas, lead investigator on the studies, told The Charlotte Observer. "It's my belief there are some approaching, if not exceeding, 3,000 years old."

Stahle led a media tour through the pitch-black waters of the swamp forest on Thursday. "You're in millennium-age trees. There are thousands of 1,000-year-old trees," he said, per the Observer. "This is one of the great old-growth forests left in the world."

But the old-growth cypresses along the Black River are threatened by logging, water pollution and sea-level rise. Without permanent protection, Stahle said, the primeval trees "could become garden mulch."