At nearly 5,000 years old, the Bristlecone Pine trees found at the tops of the highest mountains in the Great Basin are some of the oldest living organisms on earth.
The harsh environment at these high elevations actually creates the conditions that cause these trees to live so long. They are found in wildly twisted shapes as one section of the tree dies and continues to grow. At lower elevations, bristlecones look like normal trees and have much shorter life spans.
Bristlecone pines grow in isolated groves at and just below the tree line. Because of cold temperatures, dry soils, high winds, and short growing seasons, the trees grow very slowly. The wood is very dense and resinous, and thus resistant to invasion by insects, fungi, and other potential pests. As the tree ages, much of its bark may die; in very old specimens often leaving only a narrow strip of living tissue to connect the roots to the handful of live branches.
Normal height for older trees is about 15 to 30 feet, although some have attained a height of 60 feet. Diameter growth continues throughout the long life of the tree, resulting in massive trunks with a few contorted limbs.
NRS 235.040 State trees. The trees known as the single-leaf pinon (Pinus monophylla) and the bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) are hereby designated as the official state trees of the State of Nevada.
There are large groups of bristlecones on Mt. Wheeler, Mt. Washington, and Mt. Moriah. The grove on Mt. Wheeler is the most accessible with a developed trail to the stand from the 10,000-ft. Wheeler Peak Campground.
“A Roadside History of Nevada” by Richard Moreno.
“SHG Resources” website.
Primarily found in the Great Basin National Park and the Mt. Moriah Wilderness Area