Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A queer little pine-tree covered all over with burs: Pinus tuberculata

John Muir (1838-1914) once, while exploring the lower portion of the Merced Canyon in the Sierra Nevada, met a miner, who spoke of a tree he called the “Hickory Pine” (“because of the whiteness and toughness of the wood”) [1]. Now known as the knobcone pine with several scientific synonyms (Pinus tuberculata, Pinus attentuata, Pinus californica), this species was referred to by mountaineers as “that queer little pine-tree covered all over with burs.” Indeed, its cones typically cluster in whorls around the stem and tree branches. John Muir beautifully sketched Pinus tuberculata, distinguishing between a tall, slender “grove form” and a cone-shaped “isolated form.” He wrote [1]:
This curious little pine is found at an elevation of from 1500 to 3000 feet, growing in close, willowy groves. It is exceedingly slender and graceful in habit, although trees that chance to stand alone outside the groves sweep forth long, curved branches, producing a striking contrast to the ordinary grove form. 
John Muir, 1894.

Muir compared the foliage with that of the nut pine with its airy appearance and grayish-green needle color. The knobcone pine is closely restricted to special localities in California and Oregon, while the nut pine is found more widespread within these states.

Keywords: conifers, Pinaceae, taxonomy, natural history, Sierra Nevada.

References and more to explore
[1] John Muir: The Mountains of California. The Century Company, New York, 1894. Note: see pages 105 to 107  in the Penguin Classics Book print of 1985 with an introduction by Edward Hoagland.

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