The White Mountains of eastern California are home to one of the three species of Bristlecone pines – the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva). Individual members of this species are the oldest living organisms on earth, with one known specimen in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest documented at over 5000 years old. The trees grow in isolated groves just below treeline. One such grove in the Bristlecone Pine Forest is at an elevation of over 11,000 feet.
The Bristlecone pine finds a foothold in alkaline (limestone, sandstone or quartzite) soils that are inhospitable to most other trees. Cold temperatures, dry soils, high winds and a short growing season all contribute to the extremely challenging environment uniquely inhabited by these trees. The wood is dense, resinous, and durable. Resistant to insects, fungi, and other pests, the trees erode, rather than rot, creating the unusual sculptural shapes that attract so many photographers and other visitors.
An unexpected surprise during my recent visit to the Bristlecone pines was the discovery that in spite of the current drought and generally inhospitable environment, the rocky soil surrounding the pines was carpeted with tiny, multicolored alpine flowers. Most were no more than an inch or two in height but the profusion and variety of blooms was amazing.
A healthy Bristlecone in the grove at over 11,000 feet
A carpet of colorful alpine flowers among the Bristlecones
Bristlecone pine and view of the Owens Valley, California
For more images of the Bristlecones, the White Mountains and the Eastern Sierra, click here.