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Desert Diary
Plants/Long Lives


Ah, plenty of food, pleasant surroundings, and no stress. What more could you ask for to live a long life? Well, when it comes to plants, and perhaps some animals, the easy life may mean an early death. The oldest living plants are not those living the life of Riley, but those eking out a bare living under the harshest of conditions.

Individual Intermountain Bristlecone Pine trees range up to 4,600 years old, yet live at high elevations with limited precipitation and a growing season with temperatures that may drop below freezing at any time of the year. The King Clone Creosotebush in the dry Mojave Desert is estimated at over 9,400 years, the remnants of a single plant that has spread out and fragmented through time.

Little attention has been paid to the age of organisms in the Chihuahuan Desert. Yet, opportunities for survival of stressed, but long-lived plants, abound in the hot, arid reaches of the desert. Who knows? A plant who witnessed the first arrival of man may still lurk, tormented, on some desert mountain outcrop.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.