March 23, 2010
Photographer: David Brown
Summary Author: David Brown; Jim Foster
The photo above shows a curious, contorted Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) near my home in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Like an arthritic old man this old-timer; though bent and weathered, has not only managed to survive over the years but is in fact thriving. These pines, also known as Bull Pine or Western Yellow Pine, are known to grow crooked on occasion; however, ones individuals this twisted are very rare. It resembles the Bonsai trees of Japan, purposely made to look gnarled.
The base of this tree has pried apart slabs of Minnekahta Limestone, which form steep cliffs just a few feet to the right of the main stem. Note that the trunk nearly completes a 360 degree loop before bifurcating into two branches that actually go below the surface of the soil. The branch in the center of the photograph leaves the main trunk on the far side of the tree at a 90 degree angle and then enters the soil several feet from the trunk, before curving back up to vertical. Yellow/orange coloration of Ponderosa bark is indicative of a very mature tree. This one is conservatively estimated to be well over 250 years old. As can be seen, most of its neighboring trees are young, tall and straight.
The twisted appearance of this specimen is most likely a result of the obstacles it encountered over the years; including wildfires, deep snow packs and ferocious winds. A recent pine beetle invasion in the Black Hills of western South Dakota is yet another threat it’ll have to confront. Photo taken on March 12, 2010.