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The Welwistchia is primitive conifer living only in parts of coastal Namibia and Angola where moisture from the sea meets the desert. Despite appearances, it only has two single leaves, which it never sheds. National plant of Namibia.
The Welwistchia is primitive conifer living only in parts of coastal Namibia and Angola where moisture from the sea meets the desert. Despite appearances, it only has two single leaves, which it never sheds. National plant of Namibia.Rachel Sussman
The Welwistchia is primitive conifer living only in parts of coastal Namibia and Angola where moisture from the sea meets the desert. Despite appearances, it only has two single leaves, which it never sheds. National plant of Namibia.
This critically endangered eucalyptus is around 13,000 years old, and one of fewer than five individuals of its kind left on the planet. The species name might hint to heavily at its location, so it has been redacted.
Bristlecone pines are the oldest unitary organisms in the world, known to surpass 5,000 years in age. In the 1960’s a then-grad student cut down what would have been the oldest known tree in the world while retrieving a lost coring bit. A cross section of that tree was placed in a Nevada casino.
At 100,000 years old, the Posidonia sea grass meadow was first taking root at the same time some of our earliest ancestors were creating the first known “art studio” in South Africa. It lives in the UNESCO-protected waterway between the islands of Ibiza and Formentera.
What looks like moss covering rocks is actually a very dense, flowering shrub that happens to be a relative of parsley, living in the extremely high elevations of the Atacama Desert.
The Welwistchia is primitive conifer living only in parts of coastal Namibia and Angola where moisture from the sea meets the desert. Despite appearances, it only has two single leaves, which it never sheds. National plant of Namibia.
Fire destroyed much of this clonal colony of Huon Pines (as seen in this photograph) on Mount Read, Tasmania, but a substantial portion of it survived. The age of the colony was discovered by carbon dating ancient pollen found at the bottom of a nearby lakebed, which was genetically matched to the living colony.
This 5,500-year-old moss bank lives right around the corner from where the Shackleton Expedition was marooned 100 years ago on Elephant Island, Antarctica. It was a victory simply being able to locate it. These days it's easier to get to Antarctica from space.
Straddling the biologic and the geologic, stromatolites are bound cyanobacteria; organisms that are tied to the oxygenation of the planet that began 3.5 billion years ago, setting the stage for the rest of all life on Earth.
This 9,950-year-old tree is like a portrait of climate change. The mass of branches near the ground grew the same way for roughly 9,500 years, but the new, spindly trunk in the center is only 50 or so years old, caused by warming at the top of this mountain plateau in Western Sweden.
The approximately 12,000-year-old creosote bush and Mojave yucca both have remarkable circular structures, pushing slowly outward from a central originating stem. New stems replace old ones, but they are all connected by the same clonal root structure.
The Welwistchia is primitive conifer living only in parts of coastal Namibia and Angola where moisture from the sea meet
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Rachel Sussman
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These are 11 of the Oldest Things in the World

Feb 25, 2014

All that lives must die—but some organisms get a little more time on this Earth than others. For nearly a decade, the photographer Rachel Sussman has been traveling around the world, capturing images of the oldest continuously living things in the world, part of an effort to "step outside our quotidian experience of time and start to consider a deeper timescale," as she put it in a TED talk in 2010. Everything she has photographed for the project is at least 2,000 years old, if not much, much older. That includes something as unimaginably ancient as the Posidonia sea grass meadow, found in protected waters in the Mediterranean Sea, which may be 100,000 years old, and something comparatively younger, like baobab trees found in southern Africa. It is a record of survival, of those organisms—and they're all plants, lichen or coral, as the oldest animals live less than 200 years—that beat the odds of genetics and simply lasted.

Sussman has a new photo book out that details her project, along with a foreword by the science writer Carl Zimmer. There's a sense of wonder imbued in these photographs of organisms that seem to be a physical record of time, but there's also a call to action. Many of these subjects of Sussman's portraits are under threat from habitat loss or climate change or simple human idiocy. (Sussman has written movingly about the loss of the 3,500 year-old Senator tree in Orlando, destroyed in a fire that was almost certainly set on purpose.) "The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of our past, a call to action in the present and a barometer of the future," Sussman has said—and the images that follow prove her out.

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