What’s the secret to a long life? You could do worse than to start off by asking the world’s largest organism: Pando, the 106-acre (43-hectare) stand of quaking aspen clones. Estimated to have been spreading its roots for around 14,000 years, it may also be the longest-living organism known to science.
Extreme longevity has been discovered in all manner of creatures, ranging from lifespans that are an impressive deviation from the norm – such as the oldest human who lived for 122 years – to life histories that span thousands of years. The longest-living animals on Earth include the immortal jellyfish that can live for around 2,000 years (if not forever), but when we look at longevity among sessile organisms, things get really crazy.
Pando – up to 14,000 years, but also 130
Pando – pictured above – is a confusing single organism because on the surface it looks like an entire forest. Its name is Latin for spread and it’s actually made up of 47,000 clones that together, weigh around 6,000 tonnes. By mass, it is the largest single organism on Earth.
Stands of clonal aspens like this one exist elsewhere on Earth, but none are so sprawling. It took Pando thousands of years to get so big, with some estimates dating it back 14,000 years, despite the fact its individual stems only live to a paltry 130 years.
Monorhaphis chuni – 11,000 years
A deep-sea glass sponge knocked scientists’ socks off in 2012 when they were able to use the composition of its silica structure to establish its lifespan. Named Monorhaphis chuni, it grows spicules made up of concentric layers of silica, and while they can’t be dated like the growth rings in trees, their layers can be matched to past climates to work out when they formed.
There are glass sponges other than M. chuni – which is the oldest – and they all look pretty out-of-this-world.
An M. chuni specimen from the East China Sea was estimated to be around 11,000 years old (+/- 3,000 years). Not only are these 3-meter (10-foot) sponges living through eons, but they’re also recording the journey, and have the potential to teach us a lot about the past conditions of the deep.
The Rose of Hildesheim – 1,200 years
A root system and a deep-sea sponge both seem like the sort of peculiar organism that might forget to die, but an unexpected entry for long-living organisms is a type of rose. Also known as the dog rose or – for obvious reasons – the thousand-year rose, it lives on Germany’s Hildesheim Cathedral and was planted in the early 800s, and no, we didn’t forget the "1".
Now said to be around 1,200 years old, the rose was almost bombed to death during WWII, but from the rubble of the cathedral it grew back from a surviving root, writes Atlas Obscura. It still blooms annually, producing pink flowers around May.
Ancient root systems, sponges, and flowering roses are pretty cool, but did you know there’s a jellyfish that’s biologically immortal?