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.