Prometheus (tree)

Oldest known non-clonal organism. The stump (lower left) and some remains of the Prometheus tree (center), in the Wheeler Bristlecone Pine Grove at Great Basin National Park near Baker, Nevada

Prometheus (recorded as WPN-114) was the oldest known non-clonal organism, a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) tree growing near the tree line on Wheeler Peak in eastern Nevada, United States. The tree, which was at least 4,862 years old and possibly more than 5,000, was cut down in 1964 by a graduate student and United States Forest Service personnel for research purposes. Those involved did not know of its world-record age before the cutting, but the circumstances and decision-making process remain controversial.

The tree's name refers to the mythological figure Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. The designation WPN-114 was given by the original researcher, Donald Rusk Currey, and means it was the 114th tree he sampled in his research in Nevada's White Pine County.

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Discovery and age

The grove in which Prometheus grew, with the headwall of Wheeler Peak in the distance

Prometheus (WPN-114) was a living member of a population of bristlecone pine trees near the tree line on the lateral moraine of a former glacier on Wheeler Peak, in Great Basin National Park, eastern Nevada. Wheeler Peak is the highest mountain in the Snake Range, and the highest mountain entirely in the state of Nevada. The bristlecone pine population on this mountain is divided into at least two distinct sub-populations, one of which is accessible by a popular interpretive trail.

Prometheus, however, grew in an area reachable only by off-trail hiking. In either 1958 or 1961, a group of naturalists who admired Prometheus's grove gave names to a number of the largest or most distinctive trees, including Prometheus.

Currey originally estimated the... ...read more

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