Patagonian Cypress

Fitzroya cupressoides

Conservation Status: Endangered

Cause of Decline: Overexploitation

Location: South America

Collection: Plants

FMNH catalogue no. 1294957

The majestic Patagonian cypress (also known as alerce) can reach heights of up to 197 feet (60 meters), with some specimens estimated to be as old as 3600 years. It occurs only in southern Chile and Argentina’s Patagonia in temperate rainforests. The tree grows in a wet environment but depends on forest fires for regeneration; fire suppression by humans may contribute to its current decline. Patagonian cypress timber is historically prized for its physical properties, having been harvested in Chile since the 16th century.

Due to its stark decline, Chile declared the Patagonian cypress a national monument in 1976, legislating against future logging of the species. However, grey areas still remain with the logging of trees that died before 1976. An estimated 25 percent of the remaining Patagonian cypress population exists in the Patagonia National Park, purchased by the founder of North Face, Doug Tompkins, and bequeathed to the Chilean government for future conservation efforts.

In 2020, a Chilean environmental scientist estimated that a tree in a forest west of the city of La Union, Chile was over 5000 years old, making it the oldest known living individual on Earth. With a trunk four meters in diameter, the tree known as Alerce Milenario could be older than Methuselah, a bristlecone pine in California and the current record holder at 4853 years. With a core from an increment borer not long enough to reach the center of this massive tree, John Barichivich used statistical models to make an age estimate of 5484 years with an 80% chance that the tree is more than 5000 years old.

Patagonian Cypress plant botany Fitzroya cupressoides - Extinction

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