Nevada state tree possibly oldest living thing on Earth

Editor’s Note: Nevada 150 is a yearlong series highlighting the people, places and things that make up the history of the state.

Nevada’s official state tree is old. Really old. Not just old for trees, but in general.

“The bristlecone pine is the oldest living thing on Earth, with some specimens in Nevada more than 4,000 years old,” a description on the state Legislature website reads.

In 1964, a graduate student studying trees on Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park cut down what is believed to be the world’s oldest known organism — a bristlecone nicknamed Prometheus that was possibly 5,000.

The visually striking trees reach average heights of 15 to 30 feet tall, with some growing as much as 60 feet.

Throughout the tree’s life, it grows in diameter, resulting in a large trunk with few, twisted branches.

Though bristlecones are not terribly difficult to find throughout the state, they used to be even more common.

“A lot of our bristlecone pines are much newer because we had so much deforestation going on with mining,” said Michael Green, professor of history at College of Southern Nevada.

The tree is not the only tree to represent the state.

The single-leaf pinyon, “an aromatic pine with short, stiff needles and gnarled branches” that reaches heights of 15 to 50 feet, is also native. Green said Washoe and Northern Paiutes relied on the tree for food.

Both prefer high elevations.

Green said pinyons are associated with the Sierra Nevada Range, while bristlecone grow at even higher elevations in the White Mountains and the Snake Range.

“We forget how mountainous the whole state is,” Green said, noting that, depending on how a mountain is defined, Nevada has a minimum of 160 ranges. “There are a lot of places for bristlecone and pinyon to hang out.”

Contact reporter Kristy Totten at or 702-477-3809. Follow @kristy_tea on Twitter.