If you’ve recently planted a fruit tree or moved into a house with a mini orchard in the garden, you may be wondering for how long you can expect to enjoy lovely, freshly picked fruit.
An internet search for “how long do fruit trees live” will give you lots of results, but they may not all be quite as accurate as you think!
Average Lifespan of Fruit Trees
I know that fruit trees can live for much longer than is often stated online, so I’ve done some research and found specific lifespans for each tree.
You could make a gross generalization and say that fruit trees don’t live as long as some other types of tree. In some cases, that would definitely be true: peach trees have much shorter lifespans than healthy oak trees.
However, as olive trees are some of the longest-lived trees in the world, and even apple trees are now known to live for much, much longer than was previously thought, generalizing can be misleading. (A good lesson for life, that.)
I’ll try to order the trees below from shortest- to longest-lived, but as you’ll see, it’s not so easy.
Peach and Nectarine
Peach trees and their nectarine relatives are believed to have very short lifespans, with 8-15 years, 20 at the outside, usually given as an official statistic. Their life expectancy has declined in recent years due to changes in the climate, environment, and their exposure to new, more numerous, and more virulent pest and diseases.
However, while their official stated lifespan is very short, anecdotal evidence suggests that they can live for somewhat longer. Many gardeners report having peach trees, dwarf peaches in particular, in their gardens that are between 30-40 years old and still fruiting abundantly.
So while peach and nectarine trees are definitely among the shorter-lived species of fruit tree, with proper care, the right location, and good health, they can live for a few decades at least.
Like peach and nectarine trees, plum trees are among the shorter-lived species of fruit tree. On average, they may only live for 20-30 years, even less if they fall victim to a storm or an invasion of insects or disease. Certain cultivars have extremely short lifespans, maybe even only 15 years. These trees tend not to die of old age but of illness or infection.
However, there are always exceptions! Plum trees have been known to live for 50-60 years or more, and in Japan, Kyoto Prefecture this time, there are around 200 hundred plum trees still alive today that were grown from branch grafts taken in 1945.
(And of course, you have to add to the ages of those trees the ages of the rootstocks onto which the branches were grafted!)
Pomegranates and Persimmons
Cultivated pomegranate trees are attributed an average life expectancy of only 20 years, but there are reports of some living for 300 years or more in their natural habitats. Persimmon trees are thought to live for about 70-80 years.
The apricot tree was originally cultivated and domesticated from its wild cousin in China. While, like peaches and plums, apricots are thought to have relatively short lifespans of 40-50 years (or 20-30, depending on who you ask!), they can live for 100 years or more with optimum growing conditions.
While citrus trees, including lemon, orange, lime, and tangerine, etc., tend to have a stated lifespan of around 50 years, it is possible for them to live for between 100-150 years with proper care and management. And of course, trees will almost always live for longer when they’re grown in their natural habitats.
Avocado trees are thought to live for between 70-80 years, but there are reports of trees in the wild living well into their hundreds. As with many trees, a short life expectancy may not be due to death by old age, but rather, trees die relatively “young” as a result of infection, rot, or attack by pests.
You may not be surprised to hear that there is some discrepancy between the stated life expectancy of fig trees and how long they might actually live. Many sources quote 30-50 years, maybe up to 70 or 80, however in reality, fig trees can live for a lot longer.
The Roscoff fig in France, sadly cut down in the 1980s for reasons not entirely understood and generally attributed to “modernization”, was planted in 1610 and still apparently healthy (and producing figs) when it was cruelly destroyed. It wasn’t the only old fig tree in the region either, and there are fig trees in the UK that are 150-200 years old or more.
Cherry trees are considered to be among the shorter-lived varieties of fruit tree, but that’s not necessarily (or 100%) true.
While some ornamental (i.e., non-fruiting) cultivars may only live for 15-20 years, and some fruiting cultivars not much longer, this is in part related to their location (usually far from their native habitat), a climate different from that in which they’d naturally grow, any genetic weakness that may have been introduced through their breeding, and the pests and diseases to which they’re subjected.
Cherry cultivars tend to have a high susceptibility to illness, so combined with the stress of growing in an area not suited to their needs and their lack of resistance to the parasites they encounter in these new areas, they tend not to survive for very long.
However, that short lifespan in domestically cultivated cherries is in no way indicative of the full lifespan of cherry trees in general. The fruiting black cherry tree (Prunus serotina) can live for several hundred years or more. In Washington, D.C., there are ornamental cherry trees still alive today that were planted in 1912, a gift from Japan to the United States. And in the UK, fruiting cherries of more than 100 years old have been identified.
Many cherry cultivars come from Japan (although cherries are also native to other countries), and there, some cherry trees can live for an extraordinarily long time. The Jindai-zakura cherry tree in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan is thought to be Japan’s oldest cherry and possibly the oldest in the world. It’s between 1800-2000 years old: still growing, still healthy.
Japan is also home to other ancient cherry trees with ages upwards of 1000 years. It’s a long way from the 15 years that’s often quoted for the lifespan of cherry trees!
With apple trees, it’s not straightforward. It had long been assumed that apple trees didn’t live for very long. Depending on the source, 40, 50, or 80-100 years are standard given lifespans. Because fruit trees often end up with hollow trunks as they age, dating them is not as easy as it might be for another tree.
However, with improved record-keeping and additional knowledge about how apple trees grow, experts are now certain that apple trees may live for 300 years or more. And that’s only in their first incarnation!
While an apple tree’s trunk may rot and fall over, its root system could still be alive and well. If so, the roots will send up another shoot, or shoots, which over time will grow into a new trunk. Or trunks! The original trunk on the ground rots away, leaving only a slight rise in the ground, and so it’s only with an extremely discerning eye that anyone could see that the tree there might not be the original one.
In this case — and no one is yet sure how many times an apple tree can have this “rebirth” — the true age of apple trees in some old orchards or undisturbed areas could be very old indeed. The same is true for pear trees, although they seem to do it less commonly than apples.
Like with the age statistics given for apple trees, there is variation when it comes to assessing the lifespan of pear trees. Some say only a few decades, and in the case of the Bradford pear, this is certainly true. However, the Bradford pear’s short-lived status is due in large part to the way in which it was developed as a cultivar and its utter lack of structural stability.
In the wild, pear trees can live for much longer. The general estimates tend to be around 50-150 years, but those may be significant underestimates. The Endicott Pear in Massachusetts in the United States was planted between 1630 and 1649 and is still alive, well, and producing perfect pears today.
Other gardeners and growers have records of pear trees being alive for 400-500 years, and when you consider their ability to regrow as apple trees do, it’s possible that pear trees could live for a very long time.
I recently read on a website that olive trees can live for “100+ years”. While that is absolutely true, it’s also one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever read.
Olive trees can live for thousands of years. A lifespan of a hundreds of years is to be expected, and many live to over 1000 years. Some live for much longer than that. On the island of Crete lives an olive tree that has been dated to be at least 2000 years old. That sounds impressive, but scientists from the University of Crete believe its true age is closer to 4000 years old.
While that places it as one of the oldest known olive trees in the world, it may not be the oldest: an olive tree in Bethlehem is believed bу thе Раlеѕtіnіаn Міnіѕtrу оf Аgrісulturе tо bе аrоund 5000 years old.
Things to Consider About the Lifespan of Fruit Trees
As you may have guessed, there’s a lot of discrepancy between the oft-given average lifespans of fruit trees and how long they actually live.
Illness and Wilderness
These differences can be due to the tree’s lifespan in the wild versus its lifespan as a domestic cultivar. Often, trees in the wild are hardier; the fact that they’re growing in their natural habitats and have evolved to cope with the local pests and diseases means that they’re less susceptible to illness and attack.
Even when trees are in their natural habitats, the introduction and / or evolution of new diseases can also take its toll. This is evidenced all too clearly by the Xylella fastidious bacterium currently destroying ancient olive groves in the Mediterranean and affecting trees around the world. Endemic to the Americas, Xylella somehow made its way to Europe and is now spreading rapidly.
Xylella not only affects olive trees; it can also infect peach trees, cherry trees, citrus, oak, coffee, and lavender, to name just a few.
In addition, selectively breeding or cultivating trees can introduce genetic weaknesses or susceptibilities not present in wild varieties. Certain grafting combinations can also reduce the longevity and resistance of trees. Equally, other grafting combinations can allow trees to live longer than they might otherwise, as in the case of the Kyoto plums.
To take that grafting example further, while dwarfing rootstocks are often thought to reduce a tree’s lifespan, in the case of peach trees, anecdotal evidence as mentioned above suggests that dwarf peaches might live for longer than full-size trees.
The wildly different age ranges given for trees can also be due to the fact that, as tree research and scientific understanding improve and increase, experts are learning more than they knew (or thought they knew) before, and old assumptions are being corrected.
And the Internet
Finally, there’s the internet to think about. Not every post or article on the internet is particularly well-researched, and there’s a trend of just copying information from one website to another. An apple tree may live for hundreds of years, but if a popular site says it’ll only live for 50 and that information gets picked up and repeated, the commonly given data just won’t match reality.
Fruit Trees are Still Trees
The final consideration with regard not only to discrepancies in fruit tree life expectancies but with regard to planting fruit trees in general is their actual lifespan versus their productive lifespan. Sometimes, a shorter timescale is given for a fruit tree’s productive lifespan than the tree will actually live.
This is because, like all trees, fruit trees tend to decline in productiveness, i.e., produce less fruit, as they age. Some might even stop producing fruit altogether but carry on living quite happily for many decades more.
It’s often suggested that you “replace” fruit trees that are no longer productive, by which I mean, rip them up and plant a new, younger tree. From a purely economic perspective, of course this makes sense.
However, we must all remember that trees are living things. We don’t replace people when they’re too old to work or to have children. You wouldn’t (I hope you wouldn’t) get rid of your family pet because it was aging. Just because you bought a tree for its apples, peaches, or cherries, doesn’t mean that its value disappears when the fruit does.
Trees have so many benefits beyond the fruit they provide, from oxygen production to carbon sequestration, soil stabilization and animal habitats to just being a friend who’s always there for you.
Think of a tree not just for what it creates but for all that it is. Remember that it’s alive. And think about the fact that scientists are beginning to believe that trees can communicate and even feel pain.
Enjoy Your Fruit Trees for However Long They Live
Whether they live for 20 years or 2000 years, enjoy whatever fruit trees you experience. If you’re planning to plant a fruit tree where you live, do plenty of research and make sure that you choose the type best suited to your yard and environment: climate, soil type, location.
If you learn as much as you can about your tree(s), you can help to ensure that they live as long, as healthily, and as productively as possible.
Photo by Michael Schwarzenberger at Pixabay
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Kira Nash lives with her family in the sunny French countryside amidst bees and swallows. A writer, editor, and artist by trade, she also teaches creative meditation. She’s passionate about nature and ecology and tries to live as green a life as possible. In her spare time, she surfs, reads, and plays with her cats, although not usually all at once. She loves tea a little too much.