This year, the oldest living thing on Earth, a Bristlecone Pine tree nicknamed Methuselah, had its 4,851st birthday.
Though the exact location of the tree is kept secret, Methuselah is part of a population of Pinus longaeva living in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the White Mountains of California. The tree gets its name from the incurved prickles of its female cones.
These prehistoric trees have carved out a niche for themselves just below the tree line, in patches of windswept rock called dolomite. The dolomite reflects more sunlight than surrounding rock, keeping the roots of the trees cool and moist. It also helps to protect adjacent trees from fires.
Though lightning strikes are relatively common, few other plants can grow in the unique substrate, and the lack of underbrush helps to keep flames from spreading.
The trees have further adapted to their harsh environments by keeping their energy needs low. The trees rarely grow more than 50 feet in height, their pine needles live for twenty to thirty years each, and they add only 1/100th of an inch to their girth every year.