Bristlecone Pine
A Road Trip to the White Mountains
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Bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are the oldest
known living trees on earth. In the White
Mountains of eastern California these ancient
trees have survived more than 40 centuries,
exceeding the age of the oldest Giant Sequoia by
1,500 yrs. Each Bristlecone pine, from young
seedling to ancient relic, has an individual
character. Young trees are densely clad with
glistening needle-covered branches that sway like
foxtails in the wind. With their bristled cones
dripping pine scented resin on a warm afternoon,
they exude all the freshness of youth. As
centuries pass and the trees are battered by the
elements, they become sculpted into astonishingly
beautiful shapes and forms.

These "old age" gnarled Bristlecones command
complete attention, for there is a definite
emotional impact up on meeting a 4,000 year-old
tree. The aged trees tenacity to maintain life is
impressive. While most of its wood is dead,
growth barely continues through a thin ribbon of
bark. When all life finally ceases, the snags stand
like elegant ghosts for a thousand years or more.
They continue to be polished by wind driven ice
and sand. The dense wood is slowly eroding away
rather than decaying. Thin clear air and crisp
ultraviolet light drench the high altitude and
slopes where the Bristlecone Pine makes its
home. At this high elevation, one has the
impression of a lunar landscape.

The trees manage to survive in the poorly
nourished, alkaline soil with a minimum of
moisture and a forty-five day growing season. In
fact, the trees longevity is linked to these
inhospitable conditions. The trees grow very
slowly, adding as little as an inch in girth in a
hundred years. Those that grow the slowest
produce dense, highly resinous wood that is
resistant to rot and disease.
Bristlecone Pines
White Mountains, CA