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A Bristlecone Primer

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

Bristlecone 5, Windy Ridge, Colorado

I recently had the opportunity to photograph some bristlecone pines in Colorado. Shortly afterward I was in Great Basin National Park, and picked up a small book on the trees, in an attempt to educate myself about them. What I found out first is that they are among the species of pine that grow needles in bundles of five – like the limber pine of the Rocky Mountains and the whitebark pine, found here in southern Oregon.

There are actually three types of bristlecone pines, the Rocky Mountain and Great Basin varieties, which are restricted to those two geographic regions (Great Basin being Nevada and a bit each of Utah and California), and the foxtail pine, which grows in the southern Sierra and the mountains of northern California.

Bristlecones often grow near treeline, in harsh climates - the harsher the climate, the longer they live! Great Basin bristlecones tend to be the oldest, reaching ages greater than 4000 years. The other two varieties can live thousands of years as well. One coping mechanism is that parts of a tree will die, with all resources then traveling through an inner part of the main trunk, sending life to just a few outlying branches.

The trunks and branches of bristlecones are often twisted and gnarled, making them intriguing subjects for photographs. The trees pictured here are all Rocky Mountain bristlecones living in a location called Windy Ridge, near Alma, Colorado. Someday I hope to visit the Great Basin bristlecones of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains on the California/Nevada border, where the trees take on more fantastic appearances than those I encountered in Colorado.

Bristlecone 4, Windy Ridge, Colorado

Bristlecone 1, Windy Ridge, Colorado

Bristlecone 3, Windy Ridge, Colorado

Bristlecone 7, Windy Ridge, Colorado

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