Old Methuselah Grove.
For more information about Bristle cone Pines visit the following websites:
Ancient Bristle cone Pines
Ancient Bristle cone Pine Forest
Earth's Oldest Trees
If you can believe it, Methuselah was a mere tiny seedling when the ancient Egyptian pyramids were being built thousands of years ago (this is not actually a picture of Methuselah at left - it's identity remains a secret to everyone but the Park Rangers to protect it from being damaged by vandals). These hardy species of pine trees have adapted to some of the harshest living conditions on the planet - extremely dry, ferociously fast winds, high elevations with limited oxygen supply, very little rainfall, and very alkaline, sandy soil. The brutal environment in which they live is one of the main reasons they have been able to survive over the millennia. Lack of competition from other trees, shrubs, and vines who just can't make it in such a tough place helps the bristle cone pine adapt to the rigors of its home soil without interference from other species. Some of the oldest and longest lived of the trees are isolated, solitary sentinels perched in the spots most exposed to the fierce, desiccating (drying through evaporation) winds. Many plant species are unable to live in a place that is continuously assaulted by winds that rob them of essential life-giving moisture.
Want to find out more about how scientists determined the age of the tree? Visit this website - Methuselah.
Old Master of Adaptability
Even though the ancient bristle cone pines are extremely old they aren't especially large. The fattest one, the Patriarch, has a girth of only 36 feet - nothing like the massive girths of the Pacific Giant Sequoia trees. We tend to think of living things getting bigger as they get older, but that's not the case with these old guys. In fact, that is one of their many survival strategies that have contributed to their longevity - conservation of energy. It takes energy to maintain life, but it takes a LOT of energy to grow. The bristle cone pine only increases the diameter of its trunk by 1/100th of an inch (and often less) per year. Most of the trees' energy is conserved for surviving the wicked White Mountain winters. This, in turn, leads to a very dense and resinous bark which makes the tree more resistant to disease and drying from the fierce winds.
Probably the most important adaptation of the bristle cone pine is its ability to let its own tissues die back when it suffers damage from fire or drought, and maintain its crown on just a small portion of living bark. Even when the usually brief summers in the White Mountains are unusually cold, the bristle cones can use reserves stored up from previous summers, to help them survive the long, harsh winters. Conservation of energy has allowed these gnarled, old men of the mountains to thrive since the beginning of civilization.
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