A Lot of Rings to Count

by Laura Overdeck

It’s fun to celebrate birthdays with friends, balloons, presents, and cake. And we think it’s about time the Methuselah Tree gets to enjoy a party, too: at about 4,850 years old, this Great Basin bristlecone pine tree is one of the oldest individual living things in the world. If you got invited to its birthday party, you might have a hard time finding it, though.  The tree is located somewhere in a grove of trees in the White Mountains of California. But the U.S. Forest Service keeps its exact location secret to keep people from hurting it. So if you want to celebrate with the Methuselah Tree, be prepared to sing “Happy Birthday” to all the trees in the grove.

Wee ones: If you photograph 9 pine trees in the grove, and one of them is secretly the Methuselah Tree, how many pine trees are not it?

Little kids: Dendrochronology is the science of figuring out a tree’s age by counting its rings: if you cut across a tree trunk or pull out a piece, the number of rings you see tells you how many years old the tree is. If this year you count 9 rings in a tree, how many will there be next year?  Bonus: How much older is a tree with 16 rings than the one with 9 rings?

Big kids: If a tree were just half as old as the 4,850-year-old Methuselah Tree, how old would it be?  Bonus: There’s another bristlecone pine that’s about 4,600 years old. How many years younger than the Methuselah Tree is it?




Wee ones: 8 pine trees.

Little kids: 10 rings.  Bonus: 7 years older.

Big kids: 2,425 years old.  Bonus: 250 years.

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