Even if people have laid eyes on the world's oldest tree, there's a good chance they didn't realize it. That's because the United States Forest Service keeps all information about the 4,847-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine — including its exact location — completely under wraps to protect it from any potential vandals, loggers, and researchers who may be interested in chopping it down.
The tree, known as Methuselah, is rumored to be located somewhere on a mountain in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, part of Inyo National Forest in California. Even with that hint, searchers would be hard pressed to find the tree, however. The Forest Service refuses to release even as much as a picture of the tree out of fear that may happen.
While it might sound zany to be so protective over a tree, the Forest Service admittedly has good reason. The New York Times reports that the world's former oldest-known tree, an ancient pine in Nevada's Great Basin National Park, got chopped down by a graduate student in 1964:
There are a few accounts of what happened: The student, Donald R. Currey, said in a PBS documentary that the normal approach to coring a tree was not working and that he wasn't experienced enough to know what to do, so he cut it down with the help of some foresters. Members of the forest service said he got his drill bit stuck in the tree, and so he and the foresters cut it down to remove his tool. [The New York Times]