Pinus aristata

Ruth is again responsible for today’s write-up:

In keeping with our gymnosperm theme, it is appropriate to mention that the oldest-living known organism is a gymnosperm, an approximately 4,789 years old individual of the species Pinus longaeva. It has been named “Methuselah” after the oldest living person in the Bible. Methuselah resides in the White Mountains of California. Pinus longaeva is one of three pine species in a group called the bristlecone pines: Pinus longaeva, Pinus aristata and Pinus balfouriana.

Today’s photos are of Pinus aristata, also known as the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine. It is found in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Douglas Justice, the acting director of UBC Botanical Garden, took these pictures in the Mount Goliath Natural Area of Colorado. Thanks Douglas! These trees were growing at an altitude of 3300m (11000 ft), within the typical elevation where Pinus aristata can be found: 2500-3700 meters (8,000-12,000 feet). As you can imagine, these are cold, dry, subalpine conditions at or near tree-line.

One critical step in identifying any pine is to count the number of needles per fascicle (the fascicle is the tissue that holds needles together at the base of a cluster). This species maintains five stout needles per fascicle, and, unlike the other bristlecone pines, it typically has only one resin canal. According to the Wikipedia article on Rocy Mountains bristlecone pine, the resin canals are “commonly interrupted and broken…which looks a bit like ‘dandruff’ on the needles.”

Unlike Pinus longaeva, Pinus aristata rarely lives over 1,500 years. The oldest individual of Pinus aristata was found to be 2,435 years old growing on Mount Evans in Colorado. If you ever venture out to visit any of the three bristlecone pine species, take note that although they might be sparsely foliated, they are still alive. Often they will have only a thin strip of live tissue running along the gnarled tortured trunk connecting the leaves to the roots. These phenomenal trees have a strong dense and resinous wood that develops very slowly and defends the trees from pests. The Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine can be found in cultivation and makes a decent slow-growing tree for the home garden.

Pinus aristata
Pinus aristata

18 responses to “Pinus aristata”

  1. elizabeth a airhart

    thank you
    the pictures are so clear and clean
    i hope we never lose our past

  2. Stuart

    No slight to Daniel intended, but Ruth is doing a fantastic job with these write-ups. I’m really enjoying them. Thanks!

  3. NevadaJay

    What? None of these beauties in Nevada or Utah? I’ll check my resources just to be sure. I’d swear we have some in Great Basin Natural Park. BTW, congratulations on making the climb! Great images!

  4. Douglas Justice

    This is a fabulous place. The International Plant Propagators’ Society joint Eastern and Western region’s meeting was held recently in Denver, Colorado. One of the field trips was to Mount Goliath (one of the peaks o Mount Evans) where Denver Botanic Garden has a satellite alpine garden. These photos were taken a few hundred feet above on a glorious day. It wasn’t much of a hike, either. The bus pulled into the parking lot (11,000′) and I stepped off. Despite the thin air and blustery conditions, an easy 35-minute walk to tree-line and spectacular views.

  5. Millet

    I’ve seen the trees on Mt. Evans, which has the highest paved automobile road in the world.

  6. Scott McGillivray

    Wow, being a bonsai fan….well you can only imagine my fascination with nature taking the cake on this one…thanks…Scott.

  7. Ewa

    This pinus is very lovely, including dandruff…

  8. Wendy Cutler

    It was interesting that you mention it makes a decent slow-growing tree for the home garden. I had to laugh – the description of them being “sparsely foliated, [but presumably contrary to appearances] still alive…[often having] only a thin strip of live tissue running along the gnarled tortured trunk connecting the leaves to the roots” is probably not going to do much of a selling job. Oh, yeah, there’s the dandruff too. The photos might sell it, though – great photos, Douglas.

  9. Zoë Popper

    I really enjoy ‘Botany Photo of the Day’.
    However, just as a brief and rather pedantic note — recent evidence suggests that the world’s oldest living tree resides in Sweden and that it is 9550 years old. So almost twice the age of the Californian Methuselah! It is also a gymnosper, More information can be found at

  10. CherriesWalks

    In Switzerland this is called an ‘arole’
    It is easy to identify, because the number of needles equals the number of letters in its name. If there are only 3 needles it is a ‘pin’ (also equal to the number of letters).

  11. Michael F

    “What? None of these beauties in Nevada or Utah?” – you have Pinus longaeva in NV and UT.

    “However, just as a brief and rather pedantic note – recent evidence suggests that the world’s oldest living tree resides in Sweden and that it is 9550 years old” – that isn’t a tree, that’s a clonal colony reproducing by layering; also the age isn’t verifiable by ring count so can’t be considered reliable. The same can be said of various other unverifiable claims for ‘ancient’ aspens, sagebrush, Tasmanian Lomatia, etc.

    “In Switzerland this is called an ‘arole'” – that’s a different species, Pinus cembra. Some photos of P. cembra here:

  12. Peggy

    > the age isn’t verifiable by ring count so can’t be considered reliable . . .
    But don’t you have to cut the tree down – killing it – to count the rings? Do scientists really cut down ancient trees just to verify their ages? Oh, please, tell me it isn’t so!

  13. Michael F

    No, they just take a small core sample (about 5mm diameter) with a boring tool.
    Well, there was one famous specimen ‘Prometheus’ that got cut down after the boring tool got stuck :-((
    But the point about the Swedish claim, there is no 9,500 year old trunk for a core to be taken from, the oldest trunk is only a few hundred years old. That it has been growing for 9,500 years through stem layering is largely guesswork, not hard scientific fact.
    With Pinus longaeva, the trunks are there, and countable (I’ve actually seen ‘Methuselah’ myself, and saw the tiny holes left by the core boring tool) (and no, I’m not about to give away the location!!).

  14. Millet

    The location of Methuselah is not secret. I seen it also. In fact it is in a California State park very near where the Japanese were interned during WW-II, just outside of Death Valley. Anyone is welcome to drive to the park and see Methusela and many other acient trees. – Millet

  15. Bruce Vanderveen

    I just returned from Bryce National Park in Utah and saw lots of Bristlecone pine there on the higher windswept peaks. Not sure which species.

  16. Michael F

    In Utah, you will have seen Pinus longaeva.

  17. Ron B

    As with other conifers young specimens do not display the sparseness of old ones.

  18. Ted Engelmann

    Doing research on aristata, I came on this site. Great work and interesting discussion.
    You might be interested in my fine art b/w photographic portfolio, “Ancient Sentinels: The Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine.” You can see the 10-portfolio (limited edition of 25) at my web site, These images were made at the Mt. Goliath Nature Area from June 2008 to September 2009.
    Currently I am making an open edition portfolio of the full range of aristata: the northern-most grove (Boulder County, CO), southern-most (Humphreys Pk, AZ), oldest, highest growing, largest, holotype (MOBOT), and various intersting images of aristata throughout the range.
    A final request: please do not reveal the location of Methuselah, or any tree that holds any record, for obvious reasons. Secrets are important. We have so few left.
    George (Ted) Engelmann III
    (unfortunately not a direct relative of the good Dr. Engelmann, but jos family has given me the honoray title of “Spiritual Grandson” for my efforts on his behalf)

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