Bristlecone Pine-White Mountains
Resembling a growing rock rather than a plant, the bristlecone pine is the longest-living tree on the planet. These trees grow in the White Mountains, just east of the Sierra Nevada. The oldest specimens alive today have managed to survive in this inhospitable environment for almost five millennia. Among the pristine, ultraviolet-drenched lunar landscape, young trees flourish, their branches heavily clothed in needles and resin-rich bristled cones exuding a pine-fresh scent. As they age, time and the elements take their toll, battering, sand-blasting, and polishing the hardiest specimens for century upon century. It is here that the secret of the pine’s longevity lies, for those trees growing in the toughest environments do so only very slowly, forming extraordinarily dense wood in the process. When these bristlecones finally expire, their weathered remains stand for another thousand years or more, until at last they are eroded away by the wind and the ice.
Bristlecones have played a key role in helping to understand past climates. Tree ring chronologies based on living and dead bristlecones have enabled the construction of a record of change stretching back over 9,000 years. The work was pioneered by Dr. Edmund Schulman, a scientist at the University of Arizona, who first discovered the bristlecones’ staggering lifespan in the 1950s. Because climatic differences from one year to the next cause a distinct pattern of tree growth, which can be observed in cross-section through the trunk, it’s possible to infer relative past growing conditions. By matching recent sections of dead trees with early sections from living ones, the chronology can be extended back much further. In recognition of Schulman’s pioneering work, a grove of these unusual trees has been named in his honor. Schulman’s Grove contains the first tree dated at over 4,000 years of age. Nearby a visitor center, picnic area, and amenities allow the curious traveler to explore this strange, beautiful landscape. A series of self-guided walks through the heart of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest—a designated botanical area—can be found in and around Schulman Grove