For more than 10 millennia, Great Basin bristlecone pines have been eking out an existence on the 10,000-foothigh ridges of eastern california’s White Mountains. Blasted by subzero winds and scorched by the high desert sun, these tenacious trees send out gnarled roots to seek moisture in the thin alkaline soil. Their twisted frames seem to speak of both their age and the rigors of survival.
NATURE'S SENIOR CITIZENS
Tree rings have revealed that some bristlecones, now dead yet still standing, were alive when the first agrarian societies appeared in Europe and Asia around 7000 B.C.
Methuselah, documented in 1957 as the oldest living bristlecone, still produces viable seeds at the age of 4,788.
A combination of dense wood and thick resin helps protect bristlecones from pests, bacteria, and fungi.
The bristlecone's six-week-long growing season begins in early May. Annually, these ancient trees receive an average of 10 inches of rain.
The tree's stubby green needles have been known to survive for more than 40 years.
DAD'S BIG GUT
Though only 1,500 years old, the tree known as the Patriarch has a girth of 36 feet, eight inches.
Photography by Laurence Parent
This article was first published in July 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is 22 miles northeast of Big Pine, Calif., off State Route 168 east in the Inyo National Forest. Access is from late May through October. (760) 873-2500, www.fs.fed.us/r5/inyo/recreation/bristlecone/index.shtml .