The name “Bristlecone Pine” refers to a cluster of slow-growing pines with bristles on their cones. The longest lived of these, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva, is native to isolated patches in Nevada, Utah, and California. Many of the most ancient cluster in the White Mountain range, east of the Owens Valley and close to the Nevada border where conditions are conducive to long life and great size.
Like its closest relatives, the Rocky Mountains Bristlecone Pine and the Foxtail, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine’s short needles grow in clusters of five. Unlike most pine needles, however, Bristlecone needles can live up to 20 or 30 years.
Bristlecone Pine foliage
Bristlecone pine cones mature over two years. The first year cones are small and blue with relatively long bristles.
Bristlecone Pine cone – first year
Second year cones are much longer longer and darker and are frequently covered with sap. The cone in the photo below is uncharacteristically free of sap.
Bristlecone Pine cone – second year
Male flowers cluster below new growth like tiny raspberries on the trees’ lower branches. Female cones typically develop near the top of Bristlecone pines. This helps maintain a grove’s genetic diversity. Were the catkins directly above the cones, the odds would be greater that a tree would self-pollinate. Reversing this encourages cross-pollination and places the female cones where they’ll catch the most pollen from other trees in the wind.
Bristlecone pine – male flowers
Bristlecone pines produce viable seeds long into old age – there doesn’t seem to be a limit on their ability to parent new trees.
First, second, and third year cones on the same branch.
Bristlecone growth habits vary greatly. Occasionally they grow quite rangy, as demonstrated by the tree below.
Rangy growth habit
More commonly, Bristlecone produce very symmetrical growth with increased branch density near a tree’s base. While it’s hard to tell from the photo, the shoots above John’s arm represent at least 20 years of growth.
Bristlecone pine – typical growth habit
The Bristlecone are not, however, sought out for the details mentioned above. The isolated groves in the White Mountains are a global destination due to their unparalleled character obtained at very great age.
- Ancient bristlecone pine forest – highlights from the bristlecone pine forest
- Most Ancient Forest – photos from the Methuselah Trail
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