On a hill overlooking southern California suburbia, researchers have discovered an oak bush that has weathered 13,000 years of climate change.
“This literally appears to be the last living remnant of a vanished woody vegetation that occupied the inland valleys at the height of the last ice age,” Andrew Saunders of the University of California at Riverside told The Independent.
The oak bush is a Palmer’s oak, which typically inhabits higher, wetter elevations today in contrast to the dry chaparral of the Jurupa Hills where this hardy specimen was discovered. Since its nearest potential mate is 50 kilometers away, the oak has been repeatedly cloning itself and now sprawls across a 200 square meter area tucked between two boulders. The researchers reported their findings this week in PLoS One.
Although the Los Angeles Times claims the bush may hold the record as the oldest living plant in California, that’s only if you’re counting clones. Clonal colonies share their root system, but no individual part of the colony remains alive throughout its lifespan. Pando, a colony of Quaking aspen in Utah, for instance, has been dated to 80,000 years. The oldest living non-clonal plant in California – and probably the world – is still Methuselah, the 4,700 year-old Great Basin Bristlecone Pine.
Image: Jurupa Oak courtesy Dan May