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The entrancing qualities of very old moss

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  May 6, 2014 10:01 AM

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We don't pay much attention to the elderly- people or plants. The University of Chicago Press has a a beautiful new book out called "The Oldest Living Things in the World," by contemporary artist Rachel Sussman, which features photographs of 30 of the oldest continuously living organisms in the world. They're a dry, scraggly lot, like 5,500-year-old, weather-worn Antarctic moss (first picture, below), and a 2,000-year-old, brittle-looking pafuri baobab tree in South Africa (second picture). Like the very oldest human beings, tucked away in nursing homes, the oldest plants tend to live in out of the way places, stolid in the desert or reproducing slowly beneath the permafrost. But unlike human beings, who fade away, these organisms quietly thrive, diligently repairing their aged molecules and stonewalling generations of pathogens. Most of the time these old things are an afterthought, but collected together, they begin to appear as the main event on earth.

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Images courtesy of the University of Chicago Press.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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