David Stahle in the Black River. (Photo courtesy Dan Griffin)
Photo: (Photo courtesy Dan Griffin)
Photo: (Photo courtesy Dan Griffin)

One of world's oldest trees discovered in NC swamp

Researchers have discovered an ancient forest of bald cypress trees along a North Carolina river, documenting some trees older than than 2,000 years old.

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One of the bald cypress trees along the Black River was documented to be at least 2,624 years old, according to a study published Thursday in Environmental Research Communications.

“It is exceedingly unusual to see an old-growth stand of trees along the whole length of a river like this,” David Stahle, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Bald cypress are valuable for timber and they have been heavily logged. Way less than 1 percent of the original virgin bald cypress forests have survived.”

Researchers took core samples small enough that they were nondestructive from 110 trees from a preserved portion of forest along the river. 

The samples show a record of climate previously unknown, like droughts that impacted colonial settlements. 

Stahle has worked for years cataloging bald cypress trees. A 1988 study he published helped preserve 16,000 acres of forest by The Nature Conservancy, a land conservation group. 

“This ancient forest gives us an idea of what much of North Carolina’s coastal plain looked like millennia ago,” Katherine Skinner, executive director of the North Carolina chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said in a release. “It is a source of inspiration and an important ecosystem. Without Dr. Stahle, it would have gone unprotected and likely destroyed.”

These are considered the oldest trees in eastern North America, and Stahle believes there are even older trees in the forest still undiscovered.

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