The oldest living thing on Earth today is … well, it’s controversial.
Let’s back up. Figuring out the oldest thing alive requires defining “alive.” That’s not as easy as it might seem. If you want to be strict about finding the oldest living thing, you have to look for organisms that have been alive and active for their entire life spans — continuously metabolizing. A less rigid definition might allow for seeds or bacteria that have been dormant for ages but that can be revived. (Is a seed alive? Hmm…)
You also have to define what qualifies as an organism. Maybe you want to be stringent about it and limit your search to ancient individuals. Alternatively, you could count clonal organisms, like certain plants or fungal colonies. Those are made up of relatively young offshoots, but these are part of a continuously living being.
If it hasn’t become obvious yet, this article isn’t going to provide you with an address for the delivery of the world’s most fiery birthday cake. It will, however, nominate some viable candidates for the oldest living thing on Earth.
An old bristlecone: Longevity purists will appreciate the bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). The pines are single organisms (not clones) that live incredibly long lives. According to OLDLIST, a database of ancient trees, the oldest known living bristlecone is a 5,062-year-old tree in the White Mountains of California. The location has not been revealed in any greater detail, to prevent damage from curiosity seekers. When the tree germinated (in 3050 B.C.), humans were just beginning to construct Stonehenge.
An even older spruce (sort of): If you’ll accept clonal organisms in the contest for most ancient, look no further than Dalarna, Sweden. The province is home to a spindly spruce that has been cloning itself for 9,550 years. The tree currently sprouting is much younger, researchers reported in 2008, but it’s genetically identical to the wood below it that dates back 9,550 years.