The oldest tree in Europe is in Spain

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oldest tree

SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE – A special cedar (conifer) in Spain, at 1481 years old, is the oldest tree in the European Union. Researchers have been able to determine the age of the tree using radiocarbon technology.

The cedar* can be found on Mount Teide in Tenerife. It is a Canary Island cedar (Juniperus cedrus) in the Parque Nacional del Teide. Experts from the University of Valladolid (iuFOR), the Universidad Juan Carlos, and the Parque Nacional del Teide conducted the study. The results have been published in the American scientific journal ‘Ecology Society’.


The island government said in a statement: “Two years ago, in 2019, Teide National Park identified a cedar known as the ‘Patriarca’ as the oldest tree in the conservation area. This new research confirms that there are even older specimens.”, says Isabel García, an alderman for the management of the natural environment and the security of the government on the island.

Large and constantly active scientific laboratory

She added that the volcanic area is “a large and constantly active scientific laboratory. Proof of this is the important analysis that examines the presence of Canary cedars on the tops of the island. Trees that were already there at a time when the vegetation was very different from now.”

Access to these populations of Juniperus cedrus, a species native to the Canary Islands, is difficult. They stand on volcanic rock cliffs only accessible with advanced climbing techniques. A challenge that scientists have overcome by collaborating with local climbers who are also co-authors of the work.

Carbon dating

After conducting radiocarbon dating, the researchers could determine that several of the cedars studied were more than a thousand years old. Moreover, one of them was even 1,481 years old. This finding makes the tree the oldest dated tree in the European Union to date.

“Several of the trees we found here are over a thousand years old. We’ve only looked at a small part of what’s out there. This shows us that we know very little about what may be one of the most important areas of ancient trees on our planet,” said Gabriel Sangüesa, lead author of the work.

Cedars took refuge in cliffs

“The trees thrive much better on the plains, but to persevere they had to take refuge on the cliffs. The action of humans is much more destructive than that of the volcanoes,” said José Miguel Olano, a researcher at the University of Valladolid in Soria and co-authored the work.

He continues: “These trees are not only old. Along with the conservation and protection measures which the National Park managers take, they are also recolonising the plains from which they were initially driven”.

José Luis Martín Esquivel, co-author of the work and biologist of the Teide National Park says: “Birds spread the fruit of the cedars with their activities. As a result, the specimens that have survived in the steepest areas allow the restoration of the park’s ancient cedar forests”.  

*Cedar is a genus of conifers in the pine family. Cedar is related to pine and spruce, and like these has cone-shaped fruits. Cedars are native to the western Himalayas and the Mediterranean region. The wood of cedars is light and durable (source: Wikipedia).

Read also: Ten majestic trees enriching Spain’s natural heritage

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