Bristlecone Pine

December 10, 2007


Provided by: Ashley Cooper, Georgia College and State University
Summary authors & editors: Ashley Cooper, Stu Witmer

Sometimes referred to as "the tree that rewrote history," the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) of California, Utah and Nevada, is one of the oldest living things on the planet - even bristlecone needles live up to 40 years. One tree, named "Methuselah," was confirmed to be 4,789 years old in 1957, making it 4,839 years old in 2007. Some fallen trees are more than 10,000 years old. It has been suggested that the more difficult the site, the longer the individual tree is likely to live. Bristlecones are used for dendrochronology (tree-ring dating), making them helpful in such sciences as climatology, archaeology, geology, astronomy and environmental chemistry.

These twisted but distinguished looking pines favor very dry, exposed slopes and ridges between 7,200 - 12,000 feet (2,195 - 3,656 meters) and grow taller and straighter at lower altitudes. Bristlecone seeds are spread by the wind and, possibly, by Clark's nutcrackers that live in the trees, along with other small birds and mammals. While there is no special status for the tree at the federal level, the state of Nevada has given it protection as a threatened or endangered plant.

Photo taken in July of 2006 in Great Basin National Park, Nevada.