Bristlecone Pines

The Oldest Living Trees

HISTORY: Bristlecone Pines (Pinus Logaeva) were first discovered in California in 1957 by Edmund Schulman, he was among other things a a dendrochronologist or "Tree-ring Scientist."

Around this time, a group called the Great Basin National Park Association was formed. The group believed the Bristlecones of Wheeler Peak, Nevada to be older than the ones of California. Many of the Wheeler Peak Bristlecones were named by the group, names like "Prometheus" and "Socrates."

In 1964 a young university student and geographer, Donald R. Currey, traveled to Wheeler Peak to study Ice Age Glaciers. He and a friend came upon the Bristlecones at the timberline of Wheeler Peak and began to take core samples from several trees. They noted trees as old as 4,000 years! The end of the summer was near and their coring tool broken, the students asked for and were granted permission by the U.S. Forest Service to cut down a Bristlecone Pine, it was "Prometheus."

After the students cut the trunk at eight feet above the original base, over 4,844 rings were counted. This student had just killed the oldest living thing on earth. Eventually dendrochronologists determined, closer to the base of the tree, it's actual age to be 4,950 years. A tragic event indeed.

Protests began as the news of the death of "Prometheus" spread slowly across the United States. Eventually the U.S. Forest Service finally took an interest in Bristlecone security. The Wheeler Peak Bristlecones were finally in the spotlight. "Prometheus" became a martyr to save other ancients. In 1986 The Great Basin National Park Association finally realized it's goal when The Great Basin National Park was established!

ELEVATION AND GROWTH: Bristlecone typically grow in Elevations of 10,000-11,000 feet in rocky arid areas of the Great Basin which extends through most of Nevada, half of Utah, and parts of California, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado.

The oldest known Bristlecones live in impossible areas of extreme exposure, in dolomite soils that usually prevent other plant life from surviving, yet are where Bristlecone thrive. Each year a Bristlecone only increases it's girth by 1/100th of an inch, the summer growing season is usually only 3 months long annually at the most.

Bristlecone Pines mostly appear to be dead when inexperienced people discovery them. However, it is actually called Dieback, a strategy that Bristlecone Pines use to survive. When the tree is damaged due to fire, lightening, drought, etc., the bark and tissues that conduct water to the tree, die back. The crown then no longer has to supply nutrients to the damaged area, thus allowing the tree to continue to survive and grow. The surviving parts of the Bristlecone remain healthy. Even after death Bristlecones can remain standing for hundreds of years.

The oldest known living tree is named "Methuselah" and is located in the White Mountains of California. It is estimated to be over 4,600 years old.

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