In a lot of forests, many of the trees look very much alike, especially in young to middle-aged stands. Of course, no two are identical, but from our perspective, it can be hard to see the differences. Not so with the older bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva), many of which are well into their 2nd or 3rd millennium of growth. From the base of their stems to ends of their branches, every tree has a unique personality.
These trees are along the Discovery Trail, in the Methuselah Grove (a.k.a. Schulman Grove) of “Ancient Bristlecone Pines” in Inyo National Forest, just over 10,000 feet in the White Mountains of Inyo County, California.
The tightly clustered leaves (“needles”) can persist for up to 40 years or so, giving the branches a “bottle brush” appearance. This youngster of a tree is probably not even a century old yet.
These trees grow in soil derived from dolomite (calcium magnesium carbonate)—not because they require it, but because unlike most other plants, they can tolerate it. So on this dolomitic soil they avoid competition from other plants (see the high desert scrub in the background?) and even manage to live longer than any other non-clonal plant on Earth.
Just west of the dolomite the trail crosses a steep, quartzite talus slope. Hardly anything grows on this stuff, mainly for lack of soil.
In the distance are the highest peaks of the southern Sierra Nevada.
Tim Messick Photography • Graphics
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