Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine

Common name Bristlecone Pine
Botanical name Pinus longaeva
Family Pinaceae
Natural range Mountainous USA
Mature height to 15m
Form Scraggly and half-dead looking
Likes Living for more than 5000yrs
Dislikes Dying. Ever.
Where to plant Anywhere cold and dry
Known for Longest-lived tree

The Worlds oldest tree

Upon finding the world’s oldest tree, your first thought should probably not be to cut it down. But that’s exactly what happened in California in 1964. A scientist studying Bristlecone Pines found a particularly old specimen and endeavoured to take a core sample using a borer. This broke, as did his second attempt, so he asked permission to fell the tree (in the name of science). Only later, as he counted the rings, did the scientist discover he had cut down the oldest tree ever recorded – at least 4844 years old.

A living, ancient Bonsai

Old Bristlecone Pines tend to look more dead than alive, almost like some form of extreme ancient bonsai. They live in harsh rocky environments, with freezing winters, short growing seasons and limited water. And yet they endure. They tend to grow very slowly and this is part of their defence – by forming wood so slowly, it is incredibly dense and this helps protect the trees from disease. Even the foliage is long-lived. The bunches of pine needles can stay on the tree for up to 45 years, the longest of any plant.

Where are they found?

The oldest known tree currently in existence is located in California’s White Mountains, although its exact location is closely guarded to ensure its survival. Lab work (that did not involve cutting down the tree) revealed this specimen is aged around 5072 years. That’s a pretty good innings (and still counting).

Can a Bristlecone Pine be grown?

If you’re inspired to plant your own Bristlecone Pine after all of this, there are a few hurdles to doing so. The first will likely be finding importing seed, even if you manage to track some down. Also, there the harsh Californian mountainsides are one of the only regions these can grow.

If you’re still keen to grow one you should be prepared for them eventually growing to be at least 10-20m in height, but this will take several generations of your family. If you have space, these trees are an interesting choice for planting in a hot and dry region where it’s tough to get other trees to grow.

They’re incredibly drought-tolerant and can cope with harsh winds and extreme weather conditions.

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