September 27, 2014
On our trip to Colorado this summer, one of the places I really wanted to visit again was the Mt. Goliath Natural Area. We briefly stopped here on our first trip west, but I was alone in wanting to spend more time here and felt rushed, plus I did not own a decent camera then. This summer there was no rush, and Sherpa Girl K and I were able to wander leisurely among the bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata). Some of these wonderfully gnarled trees are between 1000 and 1600 years old, which given my own species' record of stewardship on this planet, it is totally remarkable that these plants are still able to survive. The natural area has a small visitors center where you can learn more about the surrounding environment, and immediately outside, native wildflowers are showcased in an alpine garden, but it was the pines I came to see.
Bristlecones are extremely well adapted to their environment, which is quite harsh. The soils are thin, rocky and poor, the winter temperatures are brutally cold, the rain is sparse, but the wind is not, and this high up the sun's radiation is intense. The trees have adapted by growing very, very slowly, making the wood dense, strong and resistant to diseases, insects, rot and bacteria. Each needle can last close to 20 years, minimizing the amount of energy needed to produce new growth. The gnarled and twisted trunks make the trees more resistant to the strong winds. The large amount of dieback on the bark and in the xylem layer reduces the need for moisture and nutrients when the trunks have been damaged by drought or fire. The relatively large distance between specimens helps keep fire from spreading when one of the pines has been hit by lightening. Even when one does die, it can take many decades for the ghost tree to finally fall to the forest floor.
I would love to know what this tree was trying to tell us, but the alphabet was not familiar.
If you haven't had your fill, my complete set of photos from my morning at Mt. Goliath can be seen here, at my flickr page, and while you are looking at them, do so trying to imagine the feel of cool crisp air, and the smell of fresh Christmas trees.
Posted by Les at 11:14 AM