Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bristlecone Pines – The Oldest Trees on Earth

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines, or Pinus longaeva, is a long-living species of tree found in the higher mountains of the southwest United States. Bristlecone pines grow in isolated groves in the arid mountain regions of six western states of America, but the oldest are found in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California. These trees have a remarkable ability to survive in extremely harsh and challenging environment. In fact, they are believed to be the some of oldest living organisms in the world, with lifespans in excess of 5,000 years.

Bristlecone pines grow just below the tree line, between 5,000 and 10,000 feet of elevation. At these great heights, the wind blows almost constantly and the temperatures can dip to well below zero. The soil is dry receiving less than a foot of rainfall a year. Because of these extreme conditions, the trees grow very slowly, and in some years don't even add a ring of growth. Even the tree's needles, which grow in bunches of five, can remain green for forty years.

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Pinus longaeva’s wood is very dense and resinous, and thus resistant to invasion by insects, fungi, and other potential pests. The wood's extreme durability plays a big part in the tree’s longevity. 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. The ancient warped and twisted bristlecone pine trees draw huge number of photographers, painters and other artists.

The oldest Pinus longaeva was discovered growing in the White Mountains of eastern California. The tree is an astounding 5,062 years old, as of 2012, and still living. Another specimen nicknamed "Methuselah", also located in the White Mountains near Bishop, is 4,843 years old (as of 2012). The exact location of both trees are kept secret to prevent tourists and hikers from damaging the trees. Previously, a 4,862-year old Bristlecone pine nicknamed "Prometheus", was cut down shortly after it was discovered in 1964 by a geology graduate searching for evidence of Ice Age glaciers.

Bristlecone pines are now protected in a number of areas owned by the United States federal government, such as the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California and the Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

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Sources: Wikipedia, NPS, Blueplanetbiomes,

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