2005 Research Grant Recipient - Ben Phillips
Tree of life
The oldest living red spruce (Picea rubens) at 445-years-old.
Growing up in Moncton, N.B., Ben Phillips spent his summers hiking the coastal trail of
Fundy National Park among dense pockets of red spruce protected from logging because of the
area’s rough terrain. Then, last August, Phillips, an environmental studies and geography
student at Mount Allison University, returned to determine how historical climate changes
have affected the remote woods.
In the course of his ﬁeld- work, funded in part by The Royal Canadian Geographical
Society, Phillips discovered the world’s oldest red spruce. And while the 445-year-old
tree is 40 years older than the previous record holder, in New Hampshire, it isn’t
exactly a towering giant. “It’s a scraggly, mangy-looking tree,” Phillips
says, “and it is smaller than many of the other trees around it.” He knew it
was significant because of its shimmering bark, the product of a resident organism that gives
spruces of a certain age a greenish white glint.
For now, Phillips is keeping the location of the ancient grove a secret. “The only
reason it’s still there is because it’s been undisturbed,” he says. His
unique knowledge has led to several TV and newspaper interviews. A group of elementary
school students in Moncton, however, was less impressed. “I took some tree cookies
[cross-sections] to show them how we count the rings, and they said, ‘You have to do
that all day?’” Phillips sighs. “But I don’t find it bad at all.
Every tree is different and has its own personality tied up in its rings. I hope to do this
for the rest of my life.”