A bald cypress tree in North Carolina has survived 2,624 years and counting

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Three Sisters Swamp, home of the fifth-oldest living tree in the world, is best accessed by canoe, at Henry’s Landing near the Bladen/Pender County line, and just south of the town of Ivanhoe. Set your GPS to 34.53944, -78.27185. (Map US Geological Service)

For 2,624 years, a bald cypress tree in southeastern North Carolina has endured the gamut of planetary upheavals, both natural and human-made: hurricanes and heat waves, floods and drought; the Little Ice Age, the Year Without a Summer — and now, global warming. Scientists from the University of Arkansas recently discovered the tree on land protected by the Nature Conservancy in Three Sisters Swamp, along the Black River. It is the oldest living tree in the US outside of California, and fifth-oldest on Earth. (Scientists found another tree along the same stretch of the Black River that is a mere 2,000 years old.)

To give you an idea of how old the now-famous bald cypress is (and how young and insignificant we are, in geological time) when the tree was just a sapling, Cyrus the Great created the Persian Empire. Light from the star Deneb, in the Milky Way galaxy, is just now reaching Earth after traveling through space for 2,600 years — having started out around the time the bald cypress poked its head above the forest floor.

However, trees worldwide are jeopardized by deforestation — for fuel, development, agriculture and roads. Since trees absorb carbon dioxide, which we are pumping into the atmosphere at an alarming rate, they are crucial to slowing the rate of climate change. Trees perform essential services for us — cleaning the air of pollutants, alleviating our stress, bearing fruit, shielding us from the heat. All they ask in return is for us to leave them be.

605 BC — Year when the bald cypress tree was a sapling

14,000 — Acres the Nature Conservancy is protecting along the Black River and its tributaries

2,088 years — Age of a second bald cypress tree in Three Sisters Swamp

5,056 years — Age of oldest living tree in the world, a Great Basin bristlecone pine, found in California

221 — Number of native tree species in North Carolina

1,100 — Estimated number of trees worldwide that are “critically endangered,” according to the Global Trees Campaign

65 — Percentage of the nation’s wetlands forests that are in 14 Southern states

10 — Percentage of Southern forests that are fully protected from commercial logging

10 — Percentage of canopy cover — the amount of sky covered by trees — per acre that qualifies the land as a “forest”

33 million — Acres of natural forest lost in the South, since 1953

40 million — Acres of monoculture pine plantations created in the South, since 1953

3.3 million — Tons of wood pellets produced in the South by Enviva, which exports them to the UK for fuel

4,131 — Number of forest fires in North Carolina caused by smoking, 2000-2015

5,564 — Number caused by children

30,247 — Number caused by burning debris

Sources: Weather Channel, Nature Conservancy, Forbes.com, Dogwood Alliance, NC Forest Service