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Riverside oak may be Calif.'s oldest plant

December 22, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
At first glance, this oak bush looks much like many other plants in the area, but researchers say this shrub, known as Palmer's Oak, is considerably more special because they believe it to be 13,000 years old, making it one of the oldest plants in the country.The historic tree is literally right across the street from Jurupa Hills resident Samuel Cano.

"Thirteen-thousand years old, I mean that's a long time," said Cano.

"This literally could predate man in North America if my guess is right," said Andrew Sanders, a herbarium scientist from U.C. Riverside

Sanders says what he found odd about this particular plant is that it's typically found high in the mountains, not down here. It got him and others thinking.

What if this oak bush sprouted during a much colder era? So they dated the plant, and sure enough, it probably was around during the ice age.

"The main thing that strikes me is that we're literally looking at a bit of what the world looked like in the ice age. We don't have to look at a fossil in this case. We can see the living individuals," said Sanders.

So as far as researchers can tell, this exact plant was growing here at the same time mastodons and sabre tooth tigers were roaming the area. The big question is: How did it survive all these years?

"I think the main thing is it's managed to get into this narrow rocky crevice on a north facing slope, so it's sort of shaded," said Sanders.

Scientists believe the shrub to be at least 1,000 years older than creosote bushes in Palm Springs.

So while it may not look like much, the 75-foot long oak bush is in fact the oldest known living plant in the state.