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WB
293392.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:57 pm Reply with quote

The ancient Yew tree at Fortingall in Scotland is the oldest known living thing in the UK, possibly in Europe. It was once measure as having a 16m. girth, which would put its age between 2000 and 5000 years old. Best estimate is around 2400. The tree has been badly treated in recent times and is a shadow of its former self. It now consists of the outer part of the trunk only – the heartwood having been cut away as souvenirs (consequently no ring dating possible). John Lloyd & WB visited a couple of years ago. It is still alive though and is being cloned at the “Dolly the Sheep” Laboratory. Local legend at Fortingall claims it as the birthplace of Pontius Pilate. There is some circumstantial evidence, but the dates don’t really stack up.

 
WB
293393.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:57 pm Reply with quote

The Glastonbury Thorn was reputedly planted by Joseph of Arimethea (owner of Jesus’s tomb) who came to Britain and stuck his staff in the ground. The thorn grew from the staff and flowers at both Christmas and Easter. It forms the table centrepiece for the Queen’s Christmas meal. The original tree no longer exists (cut down by the Puritans) but a cutting was taken and grafted onto a Hawthorn in the local Abbey. It will not flower twice a year if grown from seed – only if grafted.

 
WB
293394.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:58 pm Reply with quote

The Old Man in Methuselah’s Walk, a Bristlecone Pine in California, is described as “the oldest known living thing” at over 4,600 years. I don’t think it is even the oldest non-clonal living thing (Link to Lichens in Lapland). A geography student from Utah found an older tree (4,900 years) in Methuselah’s Walk but snapped his tree borer in the trunk. As he had borrowed the tool, he cut the tree down to retrieve it! All that now remains is a slice of the tree in a gambling hall in Nevada. Dr. Schulman who discovered Methuselah’s Walk died aged a mere 49. His work on Dendrochronology led to the re-calibration of the Carbon 14 dating system.

 
WB
293395.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:59 pm Reply with quote

Interestingly there has been a recent discovery of what is called a clonal colony on Aspen Trees in Utah called Pando (Latin for I spread). A clonal colony is a collection of genetically identical trees linked by a single root system – essentially they are the same organism. The trees are spread by suckering. Each tree lives to something like 130 years, but the root system is amazingly old (maybe 80,000 years, although this is speculative). Other statistics are impressive. It covers 43 hectares and weighs in the region of 6,000 tonnes. There may be other bigger colonies yet to be discovered.

 
WB
293397.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:59 pm Reply with quote

There are clonal colonies of Creosote bushes in the US that have been Carbon dated to 11,700 years old

 
WB
293398.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:59 pm Reply with quote

Lomatia tasmanica is a small tree/shrub in Tasmania that is sterile (three X-Chromosomes) and spread by root suckers. If I understand the reports correctly, the tree can only spread by suckering but fossils from the late Pleistocene era have been discovered nearby (8.5km away) of a genetically identical tree. That is to say L.tasmanica is a true living fossil (link to FOSSILS) and is the oldest known living clone of whose age we can be certain (43,600 years).

 
WB
293399.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:00 pm Reply with quote

The UN Environment Program is taking seriously the theory that the decline in the Earth’s magnetic field is due to deforestation of large areas of the planet. The magnetic field has flip-flopped (swapped poles) many times in history and it may well be that we are heading for another swap, but there is a lot of evidence that local falls in the strength of the field follow the pattern of deforestation. The Earth’s magnetic field is our protection against harmful cosmic rays.

 
WB
293400.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:01 pm Reply with quote

A bouquet of Wolffia borealis, the world’s smallest plant, would fit comfortably onto a pinhead. Conversely a sprig of Puya raimondii, a Bolivian Bromeliad, contains about 8000 flowers and can be 10m. tall. P.raimondii takes 50 to 100 years to come to flower then dies.

 
WB
293401.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:01 pm Reply with quote

Bladderworts (Utricularia sp.) are the most sophisticated carnivorous plants. They are mainly aquatic and possess small trap-door bladders that sit under the water. They evacuate these bladders and wait for a small creature to trigger the trap door. When the door opens the water rushes in to fill the vacuum, sucking the creature in with it. It is then trapped by the door closing again. All this happens in less than one sixtieth of a second.

 
WB
293402.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:01 pm Reply with quote

The Castor Bean plant (Ricinus communis) produces Castor oil – used medically as a laxative or to induce childbirth. It is also used as a lubricant in bicycle pumps as it doesn’t rot the rubber seals. It is also the source of the poison Ricin (used to kill Georgi Markov with a pellet fired from an umbrella, and more recently found in a factory used by Islamic terrorists). Ricin is 6,000 times as toxic as cyanide, 12,000 times as toxic as Rattlesnake venom. Ricin is not the most deadly toxin. The bacterium Clostridium botulinum produces the neurotoxin protein responsible for botulism. 1lb. (half a kilogram) could kill the entire human population of the earth. The Americans impregnated cigars with this toxin in an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro (Operation Mongoose). Most extraordinary of all is that many people have regular injections of the stuff under the trade name Botox.

 
WB
293403.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:02 pm Reply with quote

H.J.Winkler, a Dutch botanist in the 1920’s recorded a human fatality in Papua New Guinea caused by a local stinging nettle (Probably Dendrocnide ternatensis). In Australia Dendrocnide moroides is also pretty potent. Its stinging effect has been known to last for years and there are reports of it killing horses. Interestingly it causes pain but does no actual damage to the body (unlike snake venom say). The best way to remove the sting is to use hair removal wax strip.

 
WB
293404.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:02 pm Reply with quote

Wisteria from Japan spirals clockwise. Wisteria from China spirals anti-clockwise.

 
WB
293405.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:03 pm Reply with quote

Lichens are a curious mix of algae and fungus. They are extremely slow growing. Recent work on Rhizocarpon alpicola in Lapland shows that the largest specimen examined can be conservatively estimated to be 9000 years old. I would say that this makes it a good candidate for the world’s oldest non-clonal living thing. N.B. there are reports of the spores of a bacterium Bacillus permians found trapped in salt deposits 250 mya that have been grown by scientists (Vreeland, Rosenzweig & Powers). This is credible, but is a spore a living organism? Also there has been some detailed work (Graur & Pupko) showing that this Bacillus is too close genetically to modern equivalents for it to be anything like that old. It may be a contemporary bacterium that lives in salt!

 
WB
293406.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:04 pm Reply with quote

A clonal colony of sea grass Posidonia oceanica in the Mediterranean near Ibiza is estimated to be 100,000 years old. If true this would make it older than the Pando Quaking Aspens.

 
MatC
293499.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 3:40 pm Reply with quote

WB wrote:
and more recently found in a factory used by Islamic terrorists). Ricin.


Didn't it turn out that it wasn't ricin, and they weren't islamic terrorists?

 

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