Sunday, February 5, 2012

King Clone

What are the oldest living plants in the world? Unless you've already read about it somewhere, I'm guessing you wouldn't pick creosote bushes. But as it turns out, some of them are way older than the more famous and picturesque bristlecone pines. And, in fact, there's a preserve of these ancient creosote bushes located about a half hour from our house--a site includes the most famous old creosote bush of all, the King Clone.

I won't reveal the exact location here of the preserve here, but you can find it easily enough through an Internet search or in "Bill Mann's Guide to Lucerne Valley." Suffice it to say, the site is along a well-traveled dirt road and is unmarked except for a simple wire fence. On the far backside of the enclosure there is a tiny sign, above, that you would never see unless you were looking for it.

So, the story is that each ring of creosotes is actually a single organism--and that the empty space in the middle represents where the plant began. In the case of the King Clone, that was over 11,700 years ago. The King Clone is not marked and we wandered about trying to find it--we did find (or imagine we found!) a giant oval-shaped ring of creosotes, over 40 feet in diameter, that we think could have been it.

One thing we learned was: don't try this on the weekend. Too much traffic on the aforementioned dirt road. But we think that a midweek visit would be relatively quiet and peaceful and a lot more dust-free. Above: Bill found this skull, which came home with us. We can't identify it yet--it's not quite a coyote, bobcat, or pit bull--maybe some other kind of dog.

As they say, age is relative. We've been watching some DVDs lately about the history of Planet Earth where it is revealed that the very oldest living things are mounds of bacteria on Shark Beach in Western Australia. They're called stromatolites and they are 3.5 billion years old. Hard to top that! For awesome photos of them, click here