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How long do trees live?

How long do trees live

Do you know that it’s believed that trees can live up to a few thousand years?

If you’re curious to know how long a tree can live, read on as we dive into the average lifespan of trees, how to calculate their age, and factors that can either lengthen or shorten their longevity.

How long can a tree stay alive?

How long can a tree stay alive
Image: Rodion Kutsaiev on Unsplash

Some trees can live up to a few thousand years in the right growing conditions. With enough nutrients, water, and sun, a tree can live until its natural life expectancy.

Of course, the specific lifespan also depends on the species. 

Having mentioned that, it’s virtually impossible to extend the life of a tree whose species is known to only live, say, 10 years at most. 

Thus, don’t be disheartened if your dear ole weeping willow begins to show signs of deterioration after just 2 to 3 decades. Since they’re known to have short lifespans of only 20 to 30 years, it’s only natural that they’ll begin to decline after hitting age 20.

How do you calculate the age of a tree?

How do you calculate the age of a tree
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The best way to calculate a tree’s age is by counting the rings of a core sample. You can also do this on a tree stump.

If you don’t have access to the core, you can calculate a tree’s age either by multiplying its diameter by its growth factor or measuring the trunk’s girth and dividing it by 2.5.

While simply computing the tree’s age is the simplest way to get it, it’s not the most accurate method. It’s actually still pretty difficult to accurately determine a tree’s age if there’s no information on when it was planted.

To date, counting a tree’s annual rings of wood growth is the most common and trusted technique. Even then, there’s still room for deviations to occur. 

If you’re trying to figure out how old your tree is, here’s (how to find out how old is a tree – row 7) a more detailed explanation of how to do each of these methods, accompanied by easy-to-follow directions. 

What’s the life expectancy of different tree species?

What’s the life expectancy of different tree species
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Tree species with the shortest life expectancy of about 50 to 70 years are from the Alder, Birch, Poplar, and Willow genera. 

Meanwhile, the longest-living tree species come from the Australian Pine, Noble Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Yew genera, known to live past 300 years.

For a more comprehensive view of how different genera compare to one another, check out this table of their life expectancy:

Tree SpeciesTree Species
Common NameScientific NameLife Expectancy (in years)
AlderAlnus50 to 70
BirchBetula50 to 70
PoplarPopulus50 to 70
WillowSalix50 to 70
Crab AppleMalus sylvestris70 to 100
RowanSorbus aucuparia70 to 100
Wild CherryPrunus avium70 to 100
WhitebeamSorbus aria70 to 100
AshFraxinus excelsior100 to 150
HawthornCrataegus monogyna100 to 150
Norway SprucePicea abies100 to 150
Red OakQuercus rubra100 to 150
WalnutJuglans regia100 to 150
BeechFagus sylvatica150 to 200
Norway MapleAcer platanoides150 to 200
English OakQuercus robur200 to 300
HollyIlex aquifolium200 to 300
LimesTilia200 to 300
Scots PinePinus sylvestris200 to 300
Sessile OakQuercus petraea200 to 300
Sweet ChestnutCastanea sativa200 to 300
SycamoreAcer pseudoplatanus200 to 300
Australian PinePinus nigra300+
Noble FirAbies procera300+
Sitka SprucePicea sitchensis300+
YewTaxus baccata300+

Keep in mind that some trees may not live until their average life expectancy due to several factors such as poor environmental conditions and natural disasters.

For example, a black willow tree in the desert, it’s unlikely that it will reach its life expectancy. This is because this specie’s natural habitat is moist or wet soil types that are close to bodies of water.

How can I lengthen my tree’s lifespan?

How can I lengthen my tree’s lifespan
Image: Brandon Green on Unsplash

Apart from having good genetics, the best way to lengthen a tree’s life is by growing it in its native range. 

This ensures that a tree develops in an environment with the right soil type, temperature, sun exposure, and rainfall, conducive for it to reach its life expectancy. 

Other than that, you’ll want to manage the weeds in your property as these, in large quantities, can take away vital resources in the soil.

Having mentioned that, adding regular doses of fertilizer to the soil helps boost your tree’s health by providing extra nutrients and minerals. 

Though, keep in mind that it’s vital that you perform soil tests every now and then to properly assess the state of your land. 

The results from this test will let you know whether there are surpluses or deficiencies as far as acidity, salinity, nutrients, and minerals are concerned. Through this, you can adjust your additives accordingly.

To provide a tree with a good, long life is to ensure that it has enough space to grow undisturbed. This means you’ll want to carefully pick out your tree-planting site according to how tall your tree will be and how wide its roots will grow.

This way, you won’t have to worry about it causing problems with nearby structures, both aboveground and underground. Hence, you’ll want to consider avoiding interfering with roofs, powerlines, and sewer lines, among others.

What factors can shorten a tree’s life?

What factors can shorten a tree’s life
Image: qinghill on Unsplash

A surefire way to shorten your tree’s life is by planting it outside of its native range and stressing it out by taking away vital resources, inhibiting its ability to grow and function

Planting a tree outside of its native range is practically setting it up for failure since it’s highly unlikely that you can mimic exactly what it needs from a conducive environment.

Even if you can do so to an extent, it simply won’t be the same as just planting the tree within its native range. 

While you can argue that the gesture of planting a tree is good in itself, it is actually a terrible idea. Planting non-native species can wreak havoc on the local ecosystem.

Hence, it’s best to do your research first about your local tree species. This way, you can actually set a tree up for success and to live a long life. 

Another foolproof way to shorten a tree’s life expectancy is by giving it a ton of stress. 

This can be done in various ways, from poor soil composition to pest infestations.

While trees don’t have wrinkles and eyebags to show how strained they are, you’ll notice their declining health through their foliage and bark.

FAQs on Trees

What’s the oldest living tree?

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva), also called Methuselah, is the world’s oldest living tree that’s known to be over 5,000 years old. It’s believed to have been planted somewhere around 2833 BC. 

Can trees feel pain?

Technically, trees cannot feel pain because they don’t have a brain or a nervous system. As a result, they don’t associate damage with feeling hurt. 

Can trees simply die from old age?

Trees can die of old age simply because they become weaker over the years. As its cells and organs deteriorate, this causes malfunctions, which will cause the tree to die.

How is it possible for trees to live so long?

Trees can easily outlive a vast majority of other living beings because they’re quite self-sufficient. While they aren’t immortal, they can create their own food and heal their own wounds, among others.

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