In 2004, Rachel Sussman, a Brooklyn-based photographer, visited a Japanese cedar rumored to be 7,000 years old. Imbued with a sense of the fragility and persistence of life, she began a mission of researching and photographing individual organisms that were at least 2,000 years old.
Sussman’s project the ” Oldest Living Things in the World ” has taken her all over the world in search of ever-older living things to photograph. Although most of her subjects are trees, there are also photos of organisms like the Siberian Actinobacteria, which is approximately half a million years old, and rare Arctic lichens, that come in at a mere three thousand years old.
She traveled to Western Australia to photograph these stromatolites, layered structures built by microorganisms in shallow water, which are roughly 2,000-3,000 years old.
This Antarctic beech
has been living in Queensland, Australia, for about 12,000 years. It can reproduce clonally, sending up new shoots that are genetically identical, which helps account for its multiple trunks and longevity.
(also known as a yareta
) a small flowering plant
native to South America, grows just half an inch annually—but can live for up to 3,000 years.
4. Antarctic Moss
Some of the oldest organisms live in the world’s most fragile ecosystems. This 2,200-year-old Antarctic moss (green, in the background) was photographed at Kanin Point, on South Georgia Island off of Antarctica. Climate change threatens local ecosystems around the globe, especially those at the poles.
5. WelwitschiaWelwitschia mirablis, a plant endemic to Namibia and Angola, thrives in the extreme aridity of the Namib Desert, reaching ages upwards of 2,000 years.
6. AspensThis colony of quaking aspen trees, which covers roughly 106 acres near Fish Lake, Utah, has some 47,000 individual stems. It is one single organism, connected by an enormous underground root system. Named Pando—Latin for “I Spread”—it weighs an estimated 6,600 tons, making it the world’s heaviest organism; with an age upwards of 80,000 years, it is also one of the oldest.
7. BaobabThe Glencoe baobab, located in Limpopo Province, South Africa, is one of the stoutest trees in the world—its trunk was 154 feet around before being split in two by lightning in 2009. The dates “1893” and “1896,” carved into its trunk, merely hint at its age: it is an estimated 2,000 years old.