“Island of the Dragon’s Blood” by Beth Moon.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life. ― Hermann Hesse

Surreal Black and White Photos Immortalize Oldest Trees on Earth

Few things on Earth are as old as the organisms in the photos of Beth Moon. For her recent book, Portraits of Time, the San Francisco-born photographer traveled around the world for 14 years, capturing the planet’s longest-living trees (some of which also appeared in Susan Sussman’s The Oldest Living Things in the World – see video below) in the hopes of helping humanity better protect and preserve these ancient survivors. “Most of the trees that I have photographed exist only because they are outside the reach of civilization,” Moon writes on her website. “Some species exist, but only in a few of the most isolated places in the world.”

To print Portraits of Time, the negatives underwent a lengthy and intensive in which iron oxide was mixed with ground palladium and platinum and then captured inside the actual printing paper. It’s a photographic process whose results can last for centuries, incorporating Moon’s themes of time and tradition into the final products themselves. It’s all in the hopes that Moon’s photos will contribute to the preservation of these giants of the time, so that our grandchildren can admire them—and not only from a picture.


“Off to Market”


“Rilke’s Bayon”


“Bristle Cone Pine Relic”


“The Nantglyn Pulpit Yew”



“The Ifaty Teapot”



“The Bowthorpe Oak”


Susan Sussman’s The Oldest Living Things in the World



In living color..
There are colonies of clonal trees that have lived for tens of thousands of years, but there’s something majestic about a single tree able to stand on its own for millennia. These ancient trees have borne witness to the rise and fall of civilizations, survived changing climates, and even persevered through the fervent development of human industry. Here are some more of the oldest trees in color.

Methuselah bristlecone pine

 At 4,841 years old, this ancient bristlecone pine is the oldest known non-clonal organism on Earth. Located in the White Mountains of California, in Inyo National Forest, Methuselah’s exact location is kept a close secret in order to protect it from the public.

 Alerce Fitzroya cupressoides tree

The Alerce is a common name for Fitzroya cupressoides, a towering tree species native to the Andes mountains. There’s almost no telling how old these trees can get, since most of the larger specimens were heavily logged in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many botanists believe they are the second-longest living trees on Earth aside from the bristlecone pine of North America. To date, the oldest known living specimen is 3,640 years old.

Olive Tree of Vouves
Olive Tree of Vouves

This ancient olive tree is located on the Greek island of Crete and is one of seven olive trees in the Mediterranean believed to be at least 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Although its exact age cannot be verified, the Olive Tree of Vouves might be the oldest among them, estimated at over 3,000 years old. It still produces olives, and they are highly prized. Olive trees are hardy and drought-, disease- and fire-resistant — part of the reason for their longevity and their widespread use in the region.

Jōmon Sugi in Yakushima, Japan
Jōmon Sugi

Jōmon Sugi, located in Yakushima, Japan, is the oldest and largest cryptomeria tree on the island, and is one of many reasons why the island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tree dates to at least 2,000 years old, but some experts believe it could be older than 5,000 years old. Under that theory, it’s possible that Jōmon Sugi is the oldest tree in the world — even older than Methuselah. Regardless of the numbers, it’s a tree that deserves mention here.

Cariniana legalis Patriarca da Floresta tree
Patriarca da Floresta

This tree, an example of the species Cariniana legalis named Patriarca da Floresta in Brazil, is estimated to be about 3,000 years old, making it the oldest non-conifer in Brazil. The tree is believed to be sacred, but its species is widely threatened due to forest clearing in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

Bristlecone pine tree, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

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