EASTERN SIERRAS IN THE FALL #5 – Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

December 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

September 2016

EASTERN SIERRAS IN THE FALL #5 – Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

From Bishop, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center in the Inyo National Forest is 5 miles almost due east.. However, to get there by road you have to go 15 miles south, then turn northeast into the mountains and then head back north which turns out to be 38 miles each way.  But, it is well worth the effort.

Map showing route from Bishop to Ancient Bristlecone Forest

01 2016-09-25 Map #06 Bishop to Bristlecone01 2016-09-25 Map #06 Bishop to Bristlecone

 

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is a section of the Inyo National Forest in the White Mountains East of Bishop California.  The Inyo NF  is massive (2,974 sq miles), but these tress - Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) – are only in a small area of the larger National Forest.  They are one of the few plants that can survive in these specialized conditions near the tops of the mountains.  They can live over 5,000 years making them the oldest living (non-clonal) things on earth.  The oldest is thought to be 5,066 years old.  On the north slopes of the White Mountains are the oldest of these trees with an average age of 2,000 years vs. 1,000 years on the south slopes. 

Although other tree species grow in similar altitude and weather conditions, these trees have carved out a unique ecological niche.  What is really odd when you first think about it is that Bristlecone Pine is a very poor competitor.  They do very poorly when they have to compete with other vegetation.  So, how did they come to be so old when every upstart bush or tree can out compete them?  Well, it seems they figured out how to survive in soil conditions no other plants or trees can tolerate.  Therefore no competition and they can devote all their energy into maintaining themselves rather than in strategies designed for competitive purposes.  For example, many tree species put lots of resources into growing taller than everything else in the forest so they can get the most sunshine.  Other trees form dense canopy’s to deny sunlight to smaller plants nearer the ground thus making more soil nutrients available to themselves.  But, if you have no competitors you don’t have to do those things and you can live a long time.

The niche they have is that they are very good at finding water deep down and don’t have a problem with cold temps, high altitudes and strong winds.  This allows them to take root in loose dolomite soil on hillsides where any rainfall just flows right through and out the bottom leaving none in the soil itself.  Other plants can’t deal with this but they can.  With no competition they don’t need to form dense forest canopies to block out sunlight.  They also don’t need to grow extra needles for photosynthesis as no one else is going to be near enough to them to block the sun thus allowing each needle they do have to be a 100% producer whenever the sun is present.  They also don’t have to compete for water.  Once their roots get down below the dolomite it’s all theirs. 

They have also learned to adapt to the high winds.  Unlike trees with harder wood or taller trunks that tend to snap in fierce wind, these guys just let the wind bend them into strange twists and angles and they don’t seem to mind.  Couple this with a pretty good resistance to pests and you can live 5,000 years.

 

Ancient Bristlecone Forest, Inyo National Forest #1

Twisted TrunkTwisted Trunk

 

Ancient Bristlecone Forest, Inyo National Forest #2

Golden twirlGolden twirl

 

Ancient Bristlecone Forest, Inyo National Forest #3

Corkscrew BristleconeCorkscrew Bristlecone

 

Ancient Bristlecone Forest, Inyo National Forest #4

Wrapped around snagWrapped around snag

 

Ancient Bristlecone Forest, Inyo National Forest #5

Bristlecone Double SwirlBristlecone Double Swirl

- - - - - - - - - - - -

I hope you are enjoying reading the Fall in the Eastern Sierra’s travel log series.  This is the last installment for this trip, but there will be more trips in the near future so stay tuned

- Images of this trip can be found on my website at.

          http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/eastern-sierra-2016-09

                                    or

          http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/eastern-sierra-2016-09-favs

 

This blog is posted at: 

          http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2016/12/eastern-sierras-in-the-fall-05

 

Or, this whole series at:

          http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/keyword?k=DanTravelBlogEastSierra

 

Thanks for reading – Comments Appreciated -- Dan

 

 


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