World's oldest plant survives by cloning itself

Immortal oak

World's oldest plant survives by cloning itself

Jurupa Oak is said to have started life during the Ice Age.

Jurupa Oak, which belongs to the species Quercus palmeri or Palmer’s Oak, is said to have started life during the last Ice Age, and is still found in abundance in the arid scrublands of California, researchers from University of California said.

The oak, which is named after the windswept Jurupa hills where it lives, is made up of a community of cloned bushes and scientists believe it has managed to survive the extreme effects of climate change by regenerating, The Daily Mail reported.

“Palmer’s Oak normally occurs at much higher elevations, in cooler, wetter climates. In contrast, the Jurupa Oak scrapes by in dry chaparral, wedged between granite boulders and stunted by high winds, atop a small hill in plain sight of suburban backyards,” said lead researcher and plant scientist Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra.

The researchers found that the tangled cluster of stems was in fact a single individual after genetic testing, according to the study published in the online journal PLoS ONE.
The team also discovered that the oak didn’t produce any fertile acorns, suggesting an unconventional form of growth. Clonal growth occurs after a fire, when resprouts form around the base of burned stems. Over time, wood in the centre degrades, and new resprouts form after additional fires, leaving behind the haphazard collection of stems visible today.

“Because no new stems arise from acorns, the organism can only have achieved its current size—more than 25 yards long—through this method of resprouting,” said Ross-Ibarra.

“This literally appears to be a last living remnant of a vanished woody vegetation that occupied the inland valleys at the height of the Ice Age,” said co-author Andrew Sanders.
The team worked out the age of the clone by estimating its rate of growth from the rings in the stems.

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