I received an interesting query from a reader recently. Where could they find information about the natural lifespan of trees? In other words, how long do trees live under natural conditions?
On further investigation, it seems that there has not been a lot of information published on the subject of tree ages.
There is a huge amount of historical data about the world’s oldest trees – the most ancient trees growing according to historical data or tree ring (e.g. dendrochronological) analysis. Wikipedia has a helpful list of some of the oldest individual trees in the world. However, finding reliable information on the typical or average age of different trees is more difficult to come by.
I’ve found a couple of useful sources, and together with my own research knowledge, created a ranked chart of natural tree ages. I should stress that this data should be treated with caution and common sense. For example, hazel is considered a tree with one of the shortest natural lifespans, but when it is coppiced (cut at its base on a regular cycle) individuals can survive for hundreds of years. Individual specimens of many species will also often buck the average for their kind. Of course, the way that a tree might be managed in a forest, park, or garden, can also affect its life expectancy. All that said, I believe this is a reasonably accurate compilation of information on natural tree ages.
So here’s the data I’ve compiled so far on natural tree ages. If you have knowledge to share, let me know what you think. Perhaps you have data on tree species that I’ve not compiled yet. Please do get in touch.
I’ve listed below some of the more robust information sources of tree age lifespan that I found. Perhaps you know of others? Please don’t hesitate to let me know so I can add them to this article.
Di Filippo Alfredo et al. (2015). The longevity of broadleaf deciduous trees in Northern Hemisphere temperate forests: insights from tree-ring series. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 3. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fevo.2015.00046
Piovesan, G. and Biondi, F. (2021), On tree longevity. New Phytol, 231: 1318-1337. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.17148
This is useful info Gabriel – thanks for summarising these natural tree average ages.
Clearly there are many variables and few certainties – but every addition to the knowledge base is valuable.
Thanks Bryan. I hope to add more species and improve data over time.