Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bristlecone Pine

The Bristlecone Pines of Mount Evans

These twisted and gnarled trees are living metaphors for how to thrive in adversity. Actually preferring harsh conditions, the Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata) lives on the south-facing slopes of high mountain peaks where the wind never ceases and moisture is hard to come by. They love the contrast between intense sun and deep cold and have evolved a series of creative adaptations that proves once again that Mother Nature, or Natural Selection if you prefer, can master anything.

Most pine trees shed their needles yearly. The Bristlecone in contrast only sheds its needles every 10 to 15 years. It also is very slow growing. Its narrow growth rings create a very dense wood that is hard for pests to penetrate. It is also makes the tree slow to decompose. Centuries after death, the Bristlecone can remain standing, a mute testament that man's hubris. The Pyramids were raised and will crumble long before the average Bristlecone Pine turns to dust. If you are looking for a fast growing privacy tree, don't look for a Bristlecone!

The same trees as in the photo above taken from the short interpretive trail

There places to bump into Bristlecone Pines along the Front Range. Many of the hikes in the Mt. Evans area including Chief Mountain and Chicago Lakes have them. I was surprised to run into a stand of them up Mt. Royal near Frisco. The photos in this post were taken on Mt. Evans at the Mount Goliath Research Natural Area. There is a short interpretive trail through the trees as well as a 3-mile trail (Pesman Trail) that really lets you get up close and personal to the "ancient ones".

While some Bristlecones have been dated to 4,900 years old, the oldest on Mt. Evans is only 1,750 years old. Quite young by Bristlecone standards. Perhaps that is why there were so many beer cans laying around the base of the trunks. These Bristlecones are in their late 20's.

A dead Bristlecone on the Pesman Trail. How many centuries has this stump been standing?

Not all Bristlecones possess the twisted shape that identifies them to most people. That is an adaption for life near treeline where the conditions are the harshest.

The forest service does a talk on the Bristlecones every day at noon during the season at the Dos Chappell Nature Center, which is 3 miles up the Mt. Evans road from the fee station. Entrance to the Mt. Evans area is now covered by the standard Federal Lands/Parks Pass ($80/year), so you have no excuse not to visit.


Gary said...

Love the pics, education and humor! :-)


MyVintageCameras said...

Try converting some to black and white (easy in photoshop) I think you might like the effect.

Regina said...

Great shots and post.


Nina said...

I liked the beer can comment. Trees are so fascinating, and I would definitely like to visit these.

Anonymous said...

Would love to get on touch with you for more images, how can I email you directly?

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Anonymous,
You may contact me at nclguru@hotmail.com
Post and let me know you have emailed me. I don't check that account very often.

orkestral said...


Thanks for sharing. I'd like to mention an ancient stand near Fourmile CG, 285 CR#18 6 miles from hwy. They make for excellent photography as well.
I'd like to visit Windy Peak on Mt. Bross Next. Seeing them is like stepping back in time a couple thousand years!
take care,