Bristlecone Pines (Pinus longaeva)

(Fig. 01)
Picture Notes: Taken on 10/08/2013, the pictures in (Figs. 01 & 2) are of “Rainman”, the 3,000 year-old Bristlecone Pine found along the Mt. Charleston North Loop Trail. The stand of Bristlecones in (Fig. 03 & 04) were located just above Lookout Point, elevation 9,480 feet, on a hike of the Bristlecone Pine Trail back on 09/20/2012. The final grouping of shots (Figs. 05-07), were captured along the North Loop Trail to Mt. Charleston.
(Fig. 02)
Description: Bristlecone Pines (Pinus longaeva), a.k.a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, only live in scattered, arid mountain regions of six western states. The name bristlecone pine refers to the dark purple female cones that bear incurved prickles on their surface. These species of pine trees live longer than any other known organism: over 5,000 years. Bristlecone pines generally grow on dolomitic soils in isolated groves just below the tree line, between 5,600 and 11,200 foot elevations. The oldest bristlecones usually grow at elevations of 10,000 to 11,000 feet. Because they are well spaced, they grow free of competition from other plants and the ravages of insects and disease. Because these pines exist in exposed, harsh environments consisting of cold temperatures, dry soils, high winds, and short growing seasons, they grow very slowly. The really ancient trees have a fittingly gnarled and stunted appearance, especially those found at high altitudes. As the tree ages, much of its vascular cambium layer may die. In very old specimens, often only a narrow strip of living tissue connects the roots to a handful of live branches.
The bark is a reddish-brown, with deep fissures; and contains thick, scaly, irregular, blocky ridges. Branches contorted, pendent; twigs pale red-brown, aging gray to yellow-gray. Young branches resemble long bottlebrushes because of persistent leaves, closely spaced green pine needle whorls, and uniform needle insertion angles. They come in bundles of 5, and are 1 to 1.5 inches in length. Because the needles can live for forty years, the tree doesn't need to expend much energy on adding new needles. This helps the tree survive through years of stress. The male flowers, or catkins are red-purple in color. The female cones are ovoid, or egg-shaped, and dark purple to brown when mature. Each cone is 2.5 to 3.75 inches long and take 2 years to mature.
These ancient trees don't grow very tall, the tallest being 60 feet, but usually less than that. The girth of the largest tree, the Patriarch, is 36 feet 8 inches, but this tree is comparatively young at only 1,500 years. The average age is 1,000 years, with only a handful of trees over 4,000 years. The trees put more energy into surviving then growing big. A bristlecone trunk may grow less than 0.01 of an inch in girth per year.
The gnarled bristlecone pine wood is very dense and resinous, and thus resistant to invasion by insects, fungi, and other potential pests. The tree's longevity is due in part to the wood's extreme durability. While other species of trees that grow nearby suffer rot, bare bristlecone pines can endure, even after death, often still standing on their roots, for many centuries. Rather than rot, exposed wood, on living and dead trees, erodes like stone due to wind, rain, and freezing, which creates unusual forms and shapes. When they finally fall, it's because the supporting roots finally decay or are undermined by erosion.
The bristlecone pine has an intrinsically low rate of reproduction and regeneration, and it is thought that under present climatic and environmental conditions the rate of regeneration may be insufficient to sustain its population. Because of this, the species are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. Bristlecone pines are protected in a number of national parks such as the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California and the Great Basin National Park in Nevada, where cutting or gathering wood is prohibited.

Habitat: Bristlecones only live in scattered, arid mountain regions of six western states, with the oldest being found in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California. Nowhere are there more bristlecone pines than in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California near the Nevada state line, part of Inyo National Forest. This area is known for some of the oldest trees on record, several approaching 5,000 years. Unfortunately, the shortest route to the White Mountains for Southern Nevadans is 233 miles. However, if you are satisfied with seeing some magnificent specimens that are only 3,000 years old, you can visit "Rainman", elevation 9,968 feet, on Mt. Charleston's North Loop Trail or at Lookout Point, elevation 9,480 feet, at the top of the Bristlecone Pine Trail.

The Dating Process: Dendrochronology is term given to the dating of climatic changes through study of tree ring growth. The analysis of Bristlecones, based upon the comparison of long slender half-inch core samples taken from dead ground wood, standing dead wood and living trees, has proven essential to the building of accurate tree-ring chronologies dating back to almost 9,000 years into the past. This process has proven so accurate that it has even been used to recalibrate the C-14 (carbon dating) process.

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(Fig. 07)