Scientists in southern California have a bizarre new project - they're studying the six life of elderly trees.
Scientists in southern California have a bizarre new project - they're studying the six life of elderly trees. And not just elderly ones either. Their star specimen is Methuselah, which at 4,600 years is she oldest living object anywhere in the world.
The work began in September, 1972, when Leroy Johnston took his family hiking in the Mount White area of Southern California. Johnston is manager of the Institute of Forest Genetics in nearby Placeville. When he reached a grove of bristle cone pines, Johnston discovered Methuselah, which appeared much older than the relative youngsters surrounding it. They were only around 200 years old.
He took a single cone from the aged tree and returned it to the institute, where the seeds were removed and sown in a nursery. To everyone's surprise, these produced dozen bristle cone seedlings. And that started the scientists wondering - if a tree is still at it after 4,600 years, what other mysteries could there be behind all that wrinkled bark.
They bored holes in the trees, taking core samples to determine ages and discovered many of their specimens were older than the pyramids of Egypt.
At the moment, the research at Placeville goes on...and so does Methuselah, which is still producing seedlings which could quite conceivable be the objects of scientific research in the year 6974.
SYNOPSIS: Meet Leroy Johnston - a man with an unusual mission. He and his family are on their way to study the sex life of a tree, but not just any old tree. It's a bristle cone pine and it's four thousand six hundred years old.
Appropriately named Methuselah, the tree is, in fact, the oldest living object in the world.
The Johnston family discovered Methuselah about two years ago while on a similar hike through the Sierra Nevadas, in southern California.
Johnston, who is a manager of the Institute of Forest Genetics in nearby placeville, plucked a single pine cone from one of Methuselah's branches and took it back to the institute with him.
There, the seeds were sown in a nursery - and to everyone's surprise produceda dozen seedlings. Methuselah was still reproducing.
Since then, experiments with dating have advanced much further - even revising some archaeological theories on ancient civilisations.