There are trees in some parts of the United States that are older than William Shakespeare. The Pacific Northwest old-growth forests, which stretch for hundreds of miles through parts of Northern California up to southeast Alaska, are home to trees that scientists believe may date back to around the time Jamestown was first settled—about 400 years ago. The oldest trees could date back to the time of Jesus.
Western hemlocks, Sitka spruces and Douglas firs dominate these forests, with some examples reaching nearly 300 feet tall. There are also countless animals, insects and birds calling the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest home, including the northern spotted owl. In total, there are approximately 40 species of animals that are either endangered or threatened who rely on the old-growth forests in the northwest corner of the country.
The exact definition of an old-growth forest varies (even among similar organizations), but a general consensus among environmental groups defines them as a forest that’s more than 150 years old, consisting of both living and dead trees, with a diverse ecosystem free of clear visible human influences. In recent years, the study and preservation of old-growth forests has been especially important to environmentalists due to the ability of old-growth forests to absorb ozone-destroying carbon dioxide. And while the number of old-growth forests has been dwindling over the last century due to industrialization, examples still exist on nearly every corner of the Earth.
Here are five old-growth forests that are among the oldest and most beautiful in the world:
Tarkine: Tasmania, Australia
Deep in the heart of the Tasmanian interior in Australia lies one of the world’s largest—and most threatened—rainforests. The Tarkine is the second-largest temperate rainforest on the planet and home to one of the oldest living organisms on Earth, the great Huon pine. Fossil records show that this strong, slow-growing tree can live up to 3,000 years. It also has a distinctive sweet smell that has long made it attractive to the aboriginal people who have lived in these forests for over a millennium. The forest also includes trees that date back hundreds of years and animals that can only be found in this region, such as the Tasmanian Devil.