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Bristlecone Pine: The Oldest Trees of Our Planet

BY Tanuj Kasana November 11, 2019
Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine Forest in eastern California. (Rick Goldwaser / Flickr)

Before 2013, the oldest tree identified was Methuselah, a 4845 years old Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva), standing high in the White Mountain Ranges of California. But in 2013 researchers at the Tree-Ring Research group identified another P.longaeva, right there in the White Mountains, which was 5062 years old. P.longaeva is considered to be one of the longest living species on earth. The oldest bristlecone pine is also the oldest living individual of any species.

How have bristlecone pine trees managed to survive for so long?

These trees are found to inhabit harsh climatic and environmental conditions. Ironically they cannot easily survive under normal environmental conditions. They are beaten out by other trees and plants for food and survival in unpleasant conditions which makes their cultivation difficult in gardens. They grow in isolated groves mostly in rocky dolomitic soils in areas with practically no rainfall. 

Like most trees found at the tree line, these trees tend to have slow growth due to conditions like dry soils, high winds blowing and cold temperatures with short growing seasons. These conditions work in favour of the pines because they eliminate other life-forms and also give their branches and needles the “unique appearance of a long bottle brush”. Their root system is highly branched and shallow and only a few large branches of root hold them down. They can easily survive extreme drought conditions not only because of shallow roots but also because of waxy needles with a thick cuticle that help retain water.

Another reason for their long lives is the extreme durability of their dense and resinous wood. This wood resists invasions by most potential pests and is said to be so strong that even after the tree dies, they stand on their roots for centuries without rotting.

Pinus longaeva during winter

Pinus longaeva during winter in Great Basin National Park, Nevada. (US NPS / Wikimedia Commons)

While they have lived a long life they are not regenerating or reproducing at a rate necessary for their sustenance and have been put International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.

The Bristlecone Pine trees have been blessed with every possible quality that had helped them survive for thousands of years as keepers of our history. Hope they do so for even longer into the future.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “The Pando Tree of Utah – The World’s Largest and Oldest Living Organism“.

Recommended Book:
Bristlecone Book: A Natural History of the World’s Oldest Trees | By Ronald M. Lanner

Recommended Visit:
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest | California

Fact Analysis:
STSTW Media strives to deliver accurate information through careful research. However, things can go wrong. If you find the above article inaccurate or biased, please let us know at [email protected].


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