Sunday, September 7, 2014

Bristlecone Pine Trees

Bristlecone pines, Methuselah and his old colleagues! Old trees have fascinated people of all times, particularly bristlecone pine trees. In many native cultures old trees had an important role in religious rites. They are a kind of universal symbol all over the world.

pine tree provence landscape by editionha
Until today old, majestic trees like the bristlecone pine trees are understood as a symbol for life, the eternal forces of nature, longevity and the capability to survive hardship.

Old trees and forests have become a symbol for ecological balance too. They remember us to take care about our planet in a responsible way.

Read here about the oldest trees on earth, their story of discovery by Dr. Edmund Schulman, the oldest bristlecone pine called Methuselah in the White Mountains of north western California and what we might learn from these ancient trees.

A special thank you to my friend, fellow lensmaster and artist Martin aka editionh for turning me on to bristlecone pine trees and Methuselah in such a beautiful manner! What a beautiful story. Thank you Martin!

Photo credit: Pine tree Provence landscape by editionha.

Methuselah Poll
Just a quick little question for you! Had you heard of Methuselah previously?
  1. Yes, I knew about Methuselah and the Bristlecone Pine Trees too!
  2. I didn't know too much about Methuselah.
  3. Well, I am just hearing about Methuselah today!
The Bristlecone Book


Learn more fascinating information about the bristlecone and foxtail pines trees that thrive in a harsh environment and live thousands of years with a special focus on Great Basin bristlecone pine, the oldest tree species on earth.

The Bristlecone Book: A Natural History of the World's Oldest Trees


In this extraordinary journey into the world of bristlecones, author Ronald Lanner exposes the trees inner workings, taking apart a pine to examine bark, buds, needles, cones, roots, and wood.

He follows a tree's lifespan from seedling to great old age, presenting a new interpretation of stages of growth. 


Discovery of Dr. Edmund Schulman
The great age of bristlecone pines was dicovered by Dr. Edmund Schulman.



It is the merit of Dr. Schulman having discovered and documented the great age of the bristlecone pines in the arid mountains of the Great Basin, from Colorado to California. Tragically Dr. Schulman died from heart attack at age of 49 just before his findings where published in 1958 and gained worldwide recognition.
  • Discovery by Dr. Edmund Schulman - This document is a summary of Dr. Schulman's discovery. It contains valuable information about the scientific context that finally led to the exploration of the bristlecone pine forest in the Sierra Nevada.
  • Ancient Bristlecone Pine - Website by created by Leonhard Müller in 1995 about the Bristlecone pine forests in California, the discovery of their great age by Dr. Edmund Schulman and the White mountains region.
  • Oldest Living Tree Tells All, by Michael P. Cohen : Essays - This is a very interesting essay about the exploration of the bristlecone pines in California in the late 50's and beginning 60's and the political reactions on the cuttings made by Schulman and Currey for scientific purposes.

Methuselah, the Oldest Tree on Earth
Bristlecone pines in the Sierra Nevada seem to be the oldest trees on our planet. Methuselah the oldest tree on earth is 4,734 years old. The exact location is kept secret, but it is known that Methuselah is one of those magnificent bristlecone pines that grow very slowly for thousands of years at about 10 000 feet in the the White Mountains of northwestern California.


Survival Strategies of the Bristlecone Pine
To live long die slowly! The exploration of the ecology of the bristlecone pine might be useful to answer the question of longevity on this planet in general. Some strategies of the Bristlecone pine are well known and used often by other plants, for example to avoid competition by growing on sites where no other plant can grow.

In addition bristlecone pines grow very slowly, their demand for water and nutrition is minimized.

The most fascinating fact however is that the longevity of the bristlecone pine seems to be based on the ability to die slowly. That sounds paradox, but this obviously is a successful way to survive in very difficult climate.

Those parts of the trees which are exposed to strong winds, frost in winter and heat in summer, slowly die, but the tree manages to keep some bark, often only a thin stripe in protected areas alive to serve the living functions over hundreds and thousands of years.

The dead parts form a kind of protection shield against wind, temperature extremes and erosion. Under this protection a part of the tree can continue to live.


Botanical Facts
Bristlecone Pines, also called Great Basin bristlecone pines or intermountain bristlecone pines, are trees of the species Pinus aristata Engelmann var. longaeva (D.K. Bailey) Little.

This species has 5 needles in a bundle. Apart from their typical appearance they can be discerned from other 5 needle species by examining their needles of the previous year. Bristlecone pines keep their needle sheaths for more than a year , whereas all others lose them within the year of growth.

The information on the dimensions of adult trees vary a great deal: height 6 -16 meters and a diameter of from 2 up to 8 meters. The biotope are mountain ranges between 2000 -3500 meters altitude. The trees grow in full sunlight and usually have no competitiors in their biotope. The name giving seed cone shows many bristles at the end of the scales that hold the seed. The cones mature within 1-2 years.


Inyo National Forest - The website of the Inyo National Forest with lots of information about this very popular region. The Inyo National Forest, located in California's beautiful Eastern Sierra offers clean air, crystal blue skies, mountain lakes and streams, and high mountains.

The White Mountains Images
A great set of photographs taken in the White Mountains on the Lake Tahoe stock photography blog by photojournalist Scott Sady. ~ Images of the bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains of California

"Methuselah the oldest tree on earth!" For some reason I thought Methuselah was an elderly sage. Well, what about you? Did you learn something today?


History: Bristlecone Pine Trees : Ah, Methuselah! was originally created on June 29, 2009. Highest lensrank ever achieved: #2,473 overall.

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