Nfld. & Labrador

Bush-like tree one of Labrador's oldest

University researchers think they've found one of the oldest, but certainly not tallest, black spruce trees in Newfoundland and Labrador.

University researchers think they've found one of the oldest, but certainly not tallest, black spruce trees in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Standing just over two metres tall, with a trunk barely 10 centimetres thick, the spruce looks more like a bush than a tree of distinction.

But it's already 370 years old — and still growing, says Ryan Jameson, a Memorial University graduate student in biology, who found the spruce above the treeline in Labrador's Mealy Mountain range.

Jameson, who is conducting research into black spruce reproduction along the treeline, said he knew the tree was old as soon as he spotted it. He was shocked, however, when he and research partner and doctoral student Andrew Trant began counting the rings that reveal its age. They had to use a microscope to do the job.

"I thought I made a mistake, so I counted it again, and I counted it again," Trant said. "The rings were so small they were almost impossible to count."

Jameson credits the harsh environment for the tree's stubby appearance.

The climate also forces the well-adapted spruce trees to reproduce, Jameson said. Low spruce branches, pushed down by snow, often break off and become their own stems.

"If the branches break, they're really good at producing new branches and just persisting for these really long times while the climate is harsh," Jameson said.

Trant said he was only able to test a few spruce in a small section of the mountain range, so there are likely older examples out there.

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