In the heart of the Mojave Desert, there is a remarkable creosote bush ring known as “King Clone” that has captivated scientists for years. This clonal colony is a group of genetically identical plants that all trace their roots back to a single ancestor and is estimated to have begun growing around 11,700 years ago, approximately the time when human agriculture first emerged.
To determine the age of this ancient bush, researchers employed two methods: studying how long it took for the bushes to grow outwards in a ring and radiocarbon dating the center of the ring. Both techniques confirmed that they were examining an incredibly old plant indeed. According to Frank Vasek, a professor at the University of California, Riverside who conducted the radiocarbon dating, “King Clone” is believed to be one of the first life forms to spread across the Mojave Desert after the last ice age.
Although “King Clone” is undeniably ancient, it does not hold the title of Earth’s oldest organism. That honor goes to Pando, a colony of over 47,000 quaking aspen clones in Utah that is thought to be 14,000 years old. Despite their differences in age and species, both “King Clone” and Pando serve as testaments to nature’s resilience and adaptability in even some of Earth’s harshest environments.