03 Oct Bristlecone Pines, Great Basin National Park
Great Basin Bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are remarkable for their great age and their ability to survive adverse growing conditions. In fact, it seems one secret to their longevity is the harsh environment in which most bristlecone pines grow. Some of the trees in this grove (Wheeler Peak) are nearly 4,000 years old, with some dead but still standing trees more than 5,000 years old. The oldest living specimen of bristlecone pine (not in the park) was determined to be 5,065 years old.
Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below the tree line. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. Bristlecone pines in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly, and in some years, don’t even add a ring of growth. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire. Bristlecone pines grow more rapidly in more “favorable” environments at lower elevations, where they do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.
The Wheeler Peak bristlecone pine grove, the most accessible grove in the park, is located on the northeast side of Wheeler Peak. The grove is reached by a 1.5-mile (3 miles round trip) trail from Wheeler Peak Campground. A short self-guided nature trail passes through a portion of the grove.
[Text from NPS]