High in the arid, unforgiving White Mountains in southeastern California a most remarkable species of pine tree stands over an ancient pale limestone landscape. Largely unknown to many, the hauntingly beautiful Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (pinus longaeva) has captivated scientists for decades. Photographer and architect Micah Sarut was on a road trip with his parents when he got the chance to photograph this tree. Despite having no water, Micah and his family couldn’t resist heading off-track and into the desert to find the Bristlecone Pine. ITF have kindly been allowed to publish his photos and information on this truly extraordinary species.
The Bristlecone Pine is the oldest non-clonal organism on the planet. Astonishingly, many of these living trees are over 5,000 years old and there is even a record of growth going back 10,000 years. Some of the oldest found have names such as Methuselah (4,847 years old) and Prometheus (cut down in 1964 before it’s 4,845th birthday) but their locations are secret to prevent widespread souvenir hunting that once occurred. More recently, an unnamed specimen was discovered in 2012 with an age of 5,065 years and still going!
The White Mountains are composed of dolomite, a heavily alkaline rock that is extremely difficult to
sustain plant growth. The Bristlecone Pine found a way to survive where nothing else can through a combination of extreme sensitivity and terrific grit. Only found at exposed areas 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level, they are constantly battered by high altitude winds and snow. The bark responds by slowly twisting year after year to protect the exposed side of the tree from damage. Even the needles can live for 30 years, demonstrating how slow these magnificent trees grow in order to survive in a low water, high-altitude exposed environment.
Helping understand our planet
Dendrochronology is the scientific method of dating tree rings in order to analyse past climatic conditions. Using a tool called an increment borer, a dendrochronologist determines the age of a tree by counting the rings of yearly growth. They determine the relative climate history of each year in the area by inspection of each of these rings; larger rings indicate a wetter year, whilst tight rings demonstrate times of drought. The 10,000 years of Bristlecone Pine tree ring data have shown the world’s longest record of climatic events providing a unique picture of our changing world. Therefore these most dramatic and breathtaking trees are a vital part of our understanding of our planet and the climatic changes affecting it.
To find out more about Micah Sarut and to discover more photos, visit his website http://www.micahsarut.com/