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Bătrânul Carpaților: the Old Man of the Carpathians

This massive Quercus robur stands outside the village of Mercheașa, a quiet rural locality in central Romania, and did so unnoticed for most of its 900-year-long life. A contest launched with support of Prince Charles, which invited Romanian children to discover the oldest tree in their village, led to its discovery. It has since been established as the oldest tree in Romania and has become to Mercheașa as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, attracting tourists and tree enthusiasts from far and wide. It has also taught locals about the importance of protecting the natural wonders that surround their village.

Bătrânul Carpaților - Photo: Associata Carpaterra

Mercheașa is some 70 km north of the city of Brașov, in the region known as Transylvania—familiar to many for its associations with Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. The term Transylvania means “beyond the forests” and was first recorded in 1075, not too long before the oak would have sprouted. The oak has witnessed many changes as humans of different origin peopled the area (Saxons, Romanians, Hungarians), growing steadily to reach its current dimensions: 9.2 m in girth (i.e., 2.9 m dbh) and 21.3 m tall. The oak was part of a wood-pasture, a type of rural landscape created by Saxons, where trees grow scattered in a grazed landscape previously covered by forest.

Bătrânul ​​​​​​Carpaților in winter  - Photo: Stiri.ong

A contest to “Find the oldest oak”, launched in 2010 by the Mihai Eminescu Trust under the patronage of HRH the Prince Charles, was won by two children from Mercheașa, when they reported on this tree. In 2012 it was declared a National Monument, sponsored by the Carpaterra Association. A fence was erected around it to protect it from grazing animals. It appears to be in excellent health, with few signs of damage, save five stumps from branches broken off during its many centuries, and some superficially burned bark at the base, perhaps caused by fires lit by cowherds. Prince Charles, a long-time fan of Romania, was also involved in setting up a project to find and measure the oldest and largest trees of Romania, resulting in a website where over 5,000 remarkable trees have been recorded: www.arboriremarcabili.ro. The Mercheașa is currently the second largest Q. robur listed on the site. The largest stands in the village of Cajvana in northern Romania. Its girth is recorded as 11.1 m, but images suggest it may have a double stem.

This remarkable oak has been given the name of Bătrânul Carpaților in Romanian, which means “old man of the Carpathians”. The Carpathians are a mountain range that runs through the center of the country. The word “bătrânul” derives from the same Latin root as “veteran”. See video below for a closer look at this majestic tree: