The Amazing Bristlecone Pine Tree

Have you ever counted the rings of a tree on a stump or fallen log? A person can learn a lot just from studying the rings of a tree. You can tell the age of the tree, what years were dry or extremely wet, or whether the tree grew in cloudy or sunny conditions. Scientists have studied trees for generations in various fields of interest for diverse purposes. One such field of interest is that of dendrochronology.

Dendrochronology is the scientific method of tree dating. Among all the trees of the world that are studied, the bristlecone pine trees are the longest living trees and are debatably thought to be the oldest living things. Only the creosote bush in the Mojave Desert may potentially be older. The bristlecone pine tree is notable for its ability to thrive in harsh conditions and for its longevity.

Bristlecone pine trees form a set of three species. The Great Basin bristlecone pine, which is the species famous for its longevity, grows in Utah, Nevada, and eastern California. The Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine tree grows throughout parts of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. The Foxtail pine, the third species of the group, grows in two distinctly separate areas – one in the Klamath Mountains and the other in the southern Sierra Nevada. All three species of bristlecone pine trees grow in isolated groves, or clusters, in high elevation, very arid climates, usually just below the tree line.

In the White Mountains of California grows one such tree dated as of 2017 at an impressive 4,849 years of age. Imagine – this tree was a seedling before even the Egyptians built the pyramids! Scientists believe another bristlecone pine tree found in Inyo National Forest to be over 5,060 years old! For all lovers of hiking and National Park vacationing, a visit to places like Great Basin National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park would add a little awe and wonder to your life as you traverse the trails winding by the clusters of bristlecone pine trees and contemplate how much history surrounds these impressive conifers.

Why should you express any interest in a single type of tree? Apart from their impressive capacity to survive millennia in difficult conditions, what is the draw to bristlecone pine trees? When you walk among the bristlecone pines, you walk among the ancients. See history living directly before you. Feel the spirit of the tribes and communities that had gone before you and dwelt among these mountains and trees, and touch these same branches and tree trunks. As you feel the wind-battered bark, you brush against a living organism essential to discovering the happenings of our past as a human race. How can we know how to proceed in our future if we do not understand our past? Additionally, we can mold our existences like that of the bristlecone pine tree. It has adapted to survive and thrive even when the going gets tough, the winds howl and blow, and the world seems harsh and cold. And so can we.