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8 of the oldest forests in the world
By Melissa Breyer,
Treehugger, 28 October 2016.

Trees have the thing we covet most and will never have - mind-boggling longevity! With trees dating as far back as Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, these majestic old forests are living shrines to the ancient past. The forests below play home to some of the oldest living things on the planet, some dating back almost 5,000 years. Respect to the trees, they win.

1. Tongass National Forest: Alaska

Credit: Mark Brennan

At a whopping 16.8 million acres, this temperate rain forest, pictured above, is almost as big as Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts combined! This qualifies Tongass as the largest national forest in America, as well as largest intact coastal temperate rain forest in the world.

Parts of the forest are estimated to be thousands of years old, with many living trees over 800 years old. National Geographic describes Tongass as an "exceptionally rich ecosystem that holds more organic matter - more biomass - per acre than any other, including tropical jungles. And that's not counting the equally lush forests of seaweed added to Tongass shores whenever the tide goes out."

As Tongass represents nearly a third of all old-growth temperate rainforests remaining on the planet, it also plays home to a staggering array of fish and wildlife, including all five species of Pacific salmon, grizzly bears, wolves, Sitka black-tailed deer, Northern Goshawks, and marbled Murrelets.

2. Waipoua Forest: New Zealand


Like many a forest that lived more-or-less unmolested for ages by the people who lived in harmony with the land, Waipoua Forest began its adventures in exploitation with the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century. Young kauri trees - the mainstay of this North Island wilderness, were toppled in the thousands to make ship masts and spars. In 1952, Waipoua and the nearby forests of Mataraua and Waima, were declared sanctuaries and now the forests can continue doing what they've been doing for millennia.

But fortunately, many of the ancient kauri trees survived the tools of mankind! The area is rich with rare New Zealand flora and fauna, and especially the kauri, a coniferous tree with incredible longevity. The oldest of the bunch, pictured above, is called Tāne Mahuta for "Lord of the Forest." This noble grandaddy is over 150 feet tall and is estimated to be 2,300 years old.

3. Daintree Rainforest: Australia

Credit: through5eyes

The Daintree Rainforest encompasses an area of approximately 1,200 square kilometres and represents the single largest block of tropical rainforest in Australia. This incredible forest is estimated to be 180 million years old; tens of millions of years older than the Amazon Rainforest. And as one would expect given its seniority, it is a wildly active habitat, providing shelter for thousands of species of birds and other wildlife including 30 percent of Australia’s frog, reptile and marsupial species, 65 percent of the country’s bat and butterfly species as well as 18 percent of all bird species - not to mention 12,000 insect species.

The area is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site, more about which you can see in the video above.

4. Yakushima Forest: Japan

Credit: Σ64

Yakushima is a primeval temperate rainforest extending from the center of the round and mountainous Yakushima Island. In 1993 the area was registered as a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO, which describes the island ecosystem of Yakushima as unique in the Northern Hemisphere’s temperate area, "with successive vertical plant distributions extending from coastal vegetation with subtropical elements, up through a montane temperate rainforest to a high moor and a cold-temperate bamboo grassland at the central peaks."

Among all of the forest's amazing features, however, the Yakusugi trees (Japanese cedar) stand out from the crowd. They've been living in the forests for around 7,000 years, with some living specimens dating back thousands of years. With its misty, mossy, magical vibe, is it any wonder that this was the inspiration for Studio Ghibli's animated film Princess Mononoke, directed by Hayao Miyazaki? In fact, such a muse is this swath of forest that 17th Century Edo-era royalty recreated it in gardens on the mainland. An admirable and justifiable indulgence.

5. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest: California


While the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest might not look like your typical fairytale forest with towering trees and misty dappled sunlight, it nonetheless takes the cake. Here in the highlands next to Sequoia National Forest at 10,000 feet in elevation live some of the oldest living trees on Earth, including the most ancient tree of all, Methuselah - a venerable deity (in this treehugger's eyes) that is estimated to be 4,841 years old. This tree has been alive since the first Egyptian pyramids were being built, can you imagine? Characterized by their gnarly twisted forms, they defy the imagination.

While the exact location of Methuselah is kept secret for protection - maybe it's pictured above, who knows - the tree's ancient brethren are all around. Living history at its more historic.

6. Białowieża Forest: Poland and Belarus


This World Heritage Site that hugs the borders of Poland and Belarus is Europe’s last old-growth forest and plays home to trees that are thousands of years old straddles the borders of Poland and Belarus. The Białowieża Forest is only about 580 square miles, but is remarkable in so many ways. As a complex of lowland forests, it typifies the classic idea of a forest; as well, it has exceptional conservation significance due to the scale of its old growth forests, which include extensive undisturbed areas where natural processes are on-going, notes UNESCO. And picture this, it boasts 59 mammal species, over 250 bird, 13 amphibian, seven reptile and over 12,000 invertebrate species.

But the frosting on the forest cake here is the incredible home it plays to the European Bison. Brought almost to the extinction with just a few members remaining, Poland liberated a few from zoos and brought them to the forest. Now roughly around 1,000 of them live in the forest.

7. Tarkine Forest: Tasmania, Australia

Credit: Seeboundy

Tarkine, a breathtaking (or breath-giving, actually) tract of temperate rainforest, is Australia’s largest single rainforest wilderness and the second largest in the world - it is a very significant place on the planet. Some liken seeing it to a glimpse of Earth 300 million years ago. It contains mountain ranges, river and cave systems, buttongrass moorlands, and coastline complete with sandy beaches, grassy woodlands and coastal heath. Among the many notable living things, the 3,000-year-old Huon Pines stand out - they are second oldest living trees in the world.

Tragically, more than three-quarters of Australia’s rainforests have been permanently destroyed, which is why groups are working so diligently to protect Tarkine from mining and logging, which persist in this pristine wilderness. Save the Tarkine is one such group, a video about the majestic wilderness and its threats can be viewed above.

8. Kakamega Forest: Kenya, Africa


While just a hair under 90 square miles, Kenya's Kakamega Forest is all that remains of one of the largest old-growth forests on the globe. By some accounts, half of the forest has been lost in the last 40 years alone, thanks to the dismal combination of human development, war and overuse of resources. Even so, what does remain is magical and includes a wide diversity of plants and animals. It's still home to 300 species of birds, the a number of monkeys and stunning 700-year-old fig trees.

Top image: Tongass National Forest, Alaska. Credit: Zarxos/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Treehugger. Edited. Some images and links added.]