Bristlecone Pine – Pinus longaeva
Other Names: Ancient Pine, Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, Western Bristlecone Pine.
The Bristlecone Pine is one of the two oldest living tree species on Earth. In fact, it is responsible for playing a major role in recalibrating dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating methods. The size of these trees, however, is not an accurate indicator of their age. In this arid climate, the tree increases in girth only 1/100th of an inch or less, each year, due to the harsh growing conditions and short growing season, forming a characteristically twisted, gnarled, and stunted shape. Weathering beautifully, it develops streaks of black and rust as it continues to age and lose its bark. Rot-resistant, after living for several thousand years, these trees can remain standing for thousands more. The name Bristlecone refers to scales on the immature cones that are tipped with a claw-like bristle.
Distribution: In isolated groves just below the tree line at high elevation (8,500–11,650 ft) in the eastern Sierra Nevada range in California, and even smaller patches in the Great Basin Desert in Nevada and Utah.
Ecosystem: Found in cold, harsh, arid, windy climates on rocky dolomite terrain; usually solitary within large groves at higher elevations, but at lower elevations lives among Single-Leaf Pinyon Pines, Utah Junipers, Limber Pines.
Maximum Age: Approximately 5,000 years. (Dendrochronologists have estimated a dead wood sample to be from 10,000-year-old trees.)
Maximum Height and Girth: Up to 60 ft. (18.3 m) in height and 11.7 ft (3.56 m) in diameter.
Animal Community: Many small birds and mammals, including chickadees, mountain bluebirds, flycatchers, finches, nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, sapsuckers, Clark’s nutcrackers, and ground squirrels.
Threats and Conservation: The survival of this tree species is threatened by the rising temperatures of climate change.