Oldest Tree Ever
If you were expecting Canada’s longest-lived tree to be a towering monolith, you’re in for a disappointment. B.C.’s oldest tree is a 1,835-year-old yellow cedar stump in the Caren Range of the Sunshine Coast.
You might glance at the remains and think: “That’s no tree — it’s a tombstone.”
You’d be wrong. It’s no grave marker or monument to a butchered giant.
The Caren yellow cedar is as close as B.C. gets to the predictive power of the ancient Greek oracle of Delphi.
Like the oracle, it tells the future.
“You can learn a lot from studying the rings of older trees,” says botanist Andy MacKinnon, a research ecologist with B.C.’s forests ministry.
“You have a much better chance of appreciating how, and whether or not, today’s climate is different from the climate of the last couple of millenniums, and what you might expect for the future.”
The Caren cedar was 1,835 years old when it was felled in 1980. The Friends of Caren, a Sunshine Coast community group, discovered the huge stump in 1993.
How did it grow to such an age? Ken Wu, executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance, says it would have been spared wind, fire and destructive insects.
MacKinnon says yellow cedars are naturally long-lived. Nor are the province’s oldest trees its biggest trees.
“We have discovered that a lot of the oldest trees are growing at higher elevations in more extreme environments and are growing very slowly,” MacKinnon says. “This yellow cedar is probably three times the age of the giant Western red cedar and Douglas fir in Cathedral Grove.”
Identifying the province’s oldest living tree is challenging because Western red cedars get hollow in the middle as they age, Wu says. Some reds may be older than the Caren yellow but because the rings are gone from their interior base, nobody knows, Wu says.
“It’s reasonable to assume that the oldest tree in British Columbia is still out there, unmeasured,” MacKinnon says.
B.C.’s oldest treehugger began to track down the province’s evergreen giants almost a century ago.
Victoria resident Al Carder, 103, has been working to identify and protect the province’s tallest trees for close to 97 years.
His devotion to big trees grew from a child’s sense of self-preservation in Cloverdale in 1917, when his father suggested he accompany him to measure a nearby Douglas fir felled by loggers. Carder did the sensible thing and went along.
“He was scared of his father’s wrath. He was rather a disciplinarian,” says Judith Carder, Al’s daughter.
As they measured the 104-metre behemoth, the seven-year-old boy caught the Big-Tree Bug. Carder has spent his working life as an agro-meteorologist — he was Canada’s first — but his fascination with big trees abided. Carder has written three books about trees. His most recent book, Reflections of a Big Tree Enthusiast, was published when he was 100.
Carder, who has lost most of his hearing but still lives independently, is an inspiration to young environmentalists.
Ken Wu, executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance, points out that Carder has outlasted B.C.’s 80-year-old second-growth forests, which replaced its felled old-growth giants.
“I’ve heard of his work since I was a child as one of the early people who valued and promoted protection of the province’s monumental giant trees long before it was cool,” Wu says.
Judith says her father is fine with being called a treehugger but doesn’t consider himself an extremist.
“He says that at 103, he won’t be chaining himself to a tree.”