This Green Slime Like Thing is a 3000 Year Old Plant

By Anupum Pant

It looks like moss, but it isn’t. Nor is it slimy.

This gooey or slimy looking thing is actually a plant which grows in Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Peru, up in the Andes at altitudes between ten to fifteen thousand feet. Believe it or not, some of these plants are more than 3000 years old. Yes, they are one of the oldest living organisms on the planet earth – older than the golden age of Greece.

Even though the plant looks slimy goo-like from a distance, when you go closer, it is actually solid and dry to the touch. The surface of the plant consists of densely packed tens of thousands of tiny buds and flowers which make the surface feel like a pillow. That is the reason it is also  known as the Andes Pillow. In fact the surface is so stiff that a person can lie on it and the plant won’t get crushed.

It is sort of a cousin to parsley and carrots. And it is interesting to note that the plant smells like mint. Locals often boil it in water and use it to cure muscle pain.

Llareta grows extremely slowly. It grows about 1.5 cm every year. The ones which are about 2.5 to 3 meters in size can be said to have grown for hundreds of years to reach that size.

Since Llareta is dense and dry, it burns like wood, and has been known to be used by the climbers/hikers to make fire. Some say that it was also used in steam engines instead of coal. This careless burning of the extremely slow-growing living museum has endangered their long-term survival.

via [RadioLab]

Pando – An Organism That Weighs 6 Million KG

By Anupum Pant

Blue whales weigh about 150 tons each. That is a 150,000 kg animal we are talking about! Incredible! It is the largest animal to have ever lived on earth. Yes, bigger than any of the dinosaurs. Just for the perspective, the heart of a blue whale can weigh about 600 kg and is almost the size of a Volkswagen Beetle car. A human can fit in its arteries. But, if you thought no other organism can be heavier than a blue whale, you are in for a surprise.

The heaviest organism we’ve ever found, lives in the Fishlake national forest, Utah. In fact, the organism itself is the forest. This forest is a Vatican-city-sized forest which looks like it has several identical trees in a normal forest. Only what looks like identical trees in a normal forest, is actually a single huge tree.

The absolutely humongous tree is known to have come out of a single seed about 80,000 years back. With time, it went on to spread its roots and has cloned itself by popping out about 47,000 other extant clones.

Since it is a single huge tree, it indeed acts like a single huge tree. When one of the shoots (tree) is in need of nutrients, the interconnected root system makes sure that the tree gets what it needs. Also, these trees transition from winter to spring simultaneously, just like a single huge tree would.

MinuteEarth explains it better in the video below:

Ming – A 507 Year Old Organism Killed By Scientists

By Anupum Pant

A few years before Leonardo da Vinci started painting the Mona Lisa, somewhere deep in the ocean, in the year 1499, a clam was born. When it stepped into this world, it was also the period of Ming Dynasty in China, so several years later the clam was named ‘Ming’ (Scientific name: Arctica islandica) by scientists. Ming was the 507 year old organism that unfortunately got killed.

Like crocodiles, clams are also one of those biologically immortal organisms. This one lived on for 507 years till the year 2006, when it was discovered by a group of researchers in deep oceans. Unaware of its age, researchers stored it like all the other 200 clams they had gathered, using refrigeration, which killed it (and the others). It was an unfortunate accident; definitely not intended in any way.

World record: Ming the clam was recorded as the oldest individual animal ever discovered. The record mentions “Individual” because often colonies are recorded to live for really long times. By those measures, this clam would have stood nowhere in comparison. For example the deep-sea black and gold corals 2700 years old have been found. But, scientists are pretty sure that there are older individual organisms [than Ming] still living out there, waiting to be discovered.

Why do they live so long?

Their genes, extremely slow oxygen intake and very slow metabolism are some of the known factors that enable these clams to live for centuries. Their age is measured accurately by using Radiocarbon dating.

The Rings: But more importantly these clams have rings on their shells. These rings are like our fingerprints, unique for each clam. The number of rings on the shell also gives a pretty accurate estimate of their ages; like rings on a tree stump help us to find the age of a tree. Initially, a few researchers, using these rings, wrongly estimated the age of Ming to be around 400 years. It was corrected later by others.

The oxygen isotopes present on the rings can be detected too. These measurements give scientists a useful insight about the climate changes that must have happened over the years.

Author’s Note: This is the 50th post by me here which marks a 50 day anniversary. By now, I’ve become a happy blogger with more than 12K views already. Thanks all. Do take some time to check out the archives.