, Pinus longaeva, is a type of pine found high in the White Mountains
and other mountain ranges of the Great Basin
of the US. It is charactarized by short needles in bundles of 5, cones covered in pitch, and often a very twisted, weatherworm form. It is not surprising that these trees seem so windtorn - they are the oldest trees in the world. Methuselah
, the oldest known living tree, is 4,764 years old. By taking cores of the growth rings in this tree, scientists can infer many things about the past climate of the area (each yearly ring is wider if the year was warmer or wetter than others) In addition, due to the extremely dry and cold climate of the White Mountains, dead wood persists an extremely long time; fallen logs may contain cores which are over 8000 years old. By comparing these logs to cores to living trees, scientists have been able to determine climatic conditions for the whole 8000 years.
Like humans, bristlecone pines often thrive in adversity. The high portions of the White Mountains generally receive less than 12 liquid inches of precipitation a year (less than Los Angeles), mostly in the form of snow. The growing season is only 6 weeks long and is charactarized by surprising heat, drying winds, and occasional violent thunderstorms. Some bristlecone pines shun this environment for wetter, more sheltered areas. These trees may reach the respectable age of several centuries old and reach 50 feet or more in height. However, it is the trees that live in the harshest environment, on the harshest soil, which live the longest. They eek out an existance by growing millimeters a year, producing extremely hard, tough wood. Often most of the trunk is dead, leaving only a thin band of living bark supporting the tree. Yet these trees survive - for an extremely long time in these conditions. One tree in Nevada, affectionately known as Prometheus, lived for 4950 years. This tree was tragically killed by unwitting researchers in 1964. Had they not interfered, this tree would probably still be alive and nearing 5000 years in age.
For more information on these fascinating trees, visit http://www.sonic.net/bristlecone/growth.html