Czechia’s oldest beech tree discovered in Krušné Hory mountains

Wood around the Jezeří Castle

Czech scientists recently discovered what is believed to be the country’s oldest beech tree. Growing in a forest in Krušné Hory near the town of Horní Jiřetín, the tree witnessed the ascent of the Habsburg dynasty to the Czech throne, and is estimated to be at least 470 years old.

The sapling of the beech tree started to grow on a wooded slope near the Jezeří Castle around the time when Ferdinand I was crowned King of Bohemia, making the Habsburgs the most powerful reigning dynasty in Europe.

The oldest beech tree was discovered by researchers from the Department of Forest Ecology at the Czech University of Life Sciences. The fact that it was found in a production forest in Krušné Hory, in the close proximity of a brown coal mine, took  them by surprise, says researcher Vojtěch Čada.

Vojtěch Čada | Photo: Andrea Zahradníková,  Czech Radio

“I was surprised not only because of the mine, but because the Ore Mountains are famous for having a large dieback of spruce forest in the late 20th century.

“But people forget that there are old beech forests on the slopes of these mountains, which are very valuable, and that’s where we found this old tree.

“If you want to know why the forest was preserved, it may have had something to do with the history of the area, which belonged to some noble families who may simply have wanted to keep the forests there.”

Vojtěch Čada and his colleagues from the Department of Forest Ecology have been carrying out research in identifying and monitoring old forests in Czechia. They selected the site in Krušné Hory based on management plans that indicated the estimated age of the forest.

Czechia’s oldest beech tree | Photo: Vojtěch Čada,  Czech University of Life Sciences

According to Mr. Čada, the beech tree in question was inconspicuous at first sight and could be easily overlooked. While its trunk, which is over 76 centimetres thick, is one of the larger ones, some of the nearby trees have a trunk diameter of over a meter. However, Mr. Čada says having a trained eye, he was able to spot some differences:

“The tree is a little bit bigger than the other ones. It also has quite thick branches and the crown is not as regular as in the other trees. It indicates that the tree has been in the forest for quite some time.”

Dendrochronology | Photo: Hannes Grobe,  AWI/Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 2.5

The age of the tree was determined using the method of dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating:

“To identify the tree age, you need to count its tree rings. So we needed to extract a small piece of wood to identify the tree rings under a microscope in the laboratory. It’s such a small piece of wood that it doesn’t have any impact on the tree.”

Jezeří Castle en 1882 | Source: Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

The tree rings did not only determine the age of the tree, but also revealed how it grew throughout the ages. For instance in 1609, 1697 and 1807, it grew more rapidly, probably thriving because other trees in the area were felled.

The tree doesn’t seem to be affected by any disease and according to experts, it could grow for at least several more decades. Environmentalists are now striving to make the area protected, to make sure the country’s oldest beech tree won’t be felled in the future.