Can Trees Live Forever? New Kindling for an Immortal Debate

Can Trees Live Forever? New Kindling for an Immortal Debate

TrilobitesSome trees can live for thousands of years, but we may not be around long enough to really know whether they can die of old age.An 800-year-old Douglas fir on Vancouver Island, Canada.Credit…Matthew Bailey/VWPics/Universal Images Group, via Getty ImagesJuly 27, 2020, 11:02 a.m. ETTrees do not pay taxes. Some seem to avoid death as well.…

Trilobites

Some trees can live for thousands of years, but we may not be around long enough to really know whether they can die of old age.

Credit…Matthew Bailey/VWPics/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images

Trees do not pay taxes. Some seem to avoid death as well. Many of the world’s most ancient organisms are trees, including a 3,600-year-old cypress in Chile and a sacred fig in Sri Lanka that was planted in the third century B.C. One bristlecone pine known as Methuselah has been alive for nearly five millenniums, standing in a forest in what is now called California.

But according to a paper published Monday in the journal Trends in Plant Science, time ravages us all in the end. The paper, “Long-Lived Trees Are Not Immortal,” argues that even the most venerable trees have physiological limits — though we, with our puny life spans, may never be able to tell.

Sergi Munné-Bosch, a plant biologist at the University of Barcelona, wrote the article in response to a January study on ginkgo trees, which can live for over a thousand years. The study found that 600-year-old ginkgos are as reproductively and photosynthetically vigorous as their 20-year-old peers. Genetic analysis of the trees’ vascular cambium — a thin layer of cells that lies just underneath the bark, and creates new living tissue — showed “no evidence of senescence,” or cell death, the authors wrote.

Dr. Munné-Bosch said he found the paper “very interesting,” but disagreed with how some readers of the study in popular media and beyond had interpreted it.

“In my opinion at least, there is no immortality,” he said.

Those tree species that can live for centuries or millenniums have a lot of tricks for staying youthful. They have simple body plans, and develop modularly, so they can replace parts they lose. They also build on their

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