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Extreme Drought in New Mexico Cost a 650-Year-Old Tree Its Life

The 7-foot-tall douglas fir named Yoda managed to weather many a drought over the centuries, but not this last one

Douglas firs in the American West. (Photo: Luca Galuzzi)
smithsonian.com

Yoda, a seven-foot-tall Douglas fir tree, had seen many a drought come and go during its 650 years growing near Grants, New Mexico. But this past summer's extreme drought proved too much for the tree to handle, the Albuquerque Journal reports. On a research trip last month to the remote lava flows where Yoda grew, scientists discovered that the tree had finally succumbed to the heat and died. 

Grant Harley, a researcher from the University of Mississippi who discovered the tree's sad fate, told the paper that he and his students "had a moment of silence to pay our respects” and that the tree's loss was a real "bummer." New Mexico's current drought has been ravaging the region for the past 15 years, with higher temperatures and drier conditions recorded compared to past years. Those conditions have taken a toll on the trees, the Albuquerque Journal continues, causing the trees to grow slower and killing some of them. 

Yoda had been growing since at least 1406, according to a study conducted back in 1991 that used tree rings to age the Douglas fir. The researchers that discovered Yoda gave the tree its name because of its wisely weathered look, but short stature (some Douglas firs can reach up to 150-feet tall). Yoda was not the oldest tree in the area, though, the Journal points out. That distinction instead belongs to some nearby Douglas firs that are estimated to be hundreds of years older still. One, for example, is 1,275 years old, and is still holding on—at least for now.   

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