Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Old Growth

In my recent musings on Hitchcock's Vertigo, I repeated the often-held datum that the Giant Redwoods are the oldest living things on Earth. Allow me to check myself and correct the rec, because I've just been reading about some other startling life forms whose age is said to surpass even the Redwoods.

Crystal Falls, MI hosts the "Humungous Fungus", which spans over 38 acres underground near the Wisconsin border. Believed to be between 1,500 to 10,000 years old and estimated to weigh about 100 tons, this massive specimen of Armillaria Bulbosa (also known as Armillaria ostoyae) is one of this planet's most amazing success stories. The mushrooms it produces, known as the "honey mushroom", are edible.

But even larger than that: another specimen in Washington State covers about 6 square kilometres (1,500 acres), and one in Oregon has been determined to span 2200 acres underground, and it's at least 2,400 years old, possibly older. From The Independent:

The largest living organism ever found has been discovered in an ancient American forest. The Armillaria ostoyae, popularly known as the honey mushroom, started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope. It has been spreading its black shoestring filaments, called rhizomorphs, through the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows. It now covers 2,200 acres (880 hectares) of the Malheur National Forest, in eastern Oregon.

"There hasn't been anything measured with any scientific technique that has shown any plant or animal to be larger than this."

But then there's Pando, described by Wikipedia as "a clonal colony of a single male Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) located in the U.S. state of Utah, all determined to be part of a single living organism by identical genetic markers and one massive underground root system." Pando has been estimated by some to be approximately 80,000 years old.

By comparison, the oldest known living Redwood tree is about 2200 years old, although it is believed that at one time, 5000-year-old ones existed on America's west coast.

I have a fondness for plants that work in this manner, appearing to be separate entities above-ground while all actually connected as one network-entity beneath the soil, out of sight. Bamboo is another such plant, and Japanese Knotweed is another.

(Top photo: scraping away at a Douglas Fir's bark to reveal Armillaria ostoyae taking it over from the inside. Second photo: Pando.)

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