Photo of the Week - September 9, 2012

Great Basin Bristlecone Pine Trees
Pinus longaeva
Spectra Point Trail
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Utah

September 9, 2012

Bristlecone Pine trees found in the high elevations of the dry intermountain West are among the oldest living organisms found on Earth. On Cedar Break's Spectra Point Trail, there is one tree which is over 1,600 years old. The trees are found between 8,000 and 10,500 feet elevation at Cedar Breaks.

According to the National Park Service:
"Bristlecone pine is also known as "Wind Timber", "Hickory Pine", "Krummholz" and "Foxtail Pine." It is a member of the group of pines known as foxtail pines, because of the shape of the branches and the way the needles stay attached all the way up the limb. The limbs look like small foxtails."

"The tree is used heavily in the science of dendrochronology, where tree rings of known ages are compared against environmental conditions and a history of previous environmental conditions is recorded. Because the trees are thousands of years old, we can understand what the environment was like thousands of years ago, just by comparing the tree rings.

The tree is also noteworthy because the needles stay on the limb for over 40 years, unlike most other pines, which shed their needles every few years. This is important, because the tree can go through periods when it does not grow at all. At such high elevations (8,000-11,000 ft), there are years when the environment does not thaw. This prevents the tree from putting on a new year's growth (both foliage and cambium rings.) By keeping its needles longer, the tree doesn't lose all of its foliage without having the opportunity to grow new needles. It also means that a tree with 900 obvious rings may be significantly older.

Great longevity is also insured by highly resinous wood which helps prevent the trees from desiccating in the hot, dry temperatures. This resin also helps shield the bristlecones from insects and harmful bacteria that prey upon many other, more fragile trees."

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