Monday, July 29, 2013

King of the alpine woods: mountain pine (Pinus monticola)

The mountain pine or western white pine (Pinus monticola) is currently listed as “Near Threatened.” The overall population of this species—native to western North America (British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, California)—is probably decreasing due to logging, fire suppression, a lack of regeneration and pine blister rust [1]. In 1948, Donald Culross Peattie already mentioned the western white pine as a valuable timber tree fetching a higher price than the western red cedar or the Douglas fir when growing side by side with this species [2].

In the 19th century, when John Muir was exploring and describing the forests of the Sierra Nevada, the western mountain pine population was probably in healthier shape. Muir notes the mountain pine's close relation to the sugar pine (the sugar of which he calls the best of sweets) and glorifies its strength and noblesse with tones echoing his praise for Pinus lambertiana [3]:
The Mountain Pine is king of the alpine woods, brave, hardy, and long-lived, towering grandly above its companions, and becoming stronger and more imposing just where other species begin to crouch and disappear. At its best it is usually about ninety feet high and five or six in diameter, though a specimen is often met considerably larger than this. The trunk is as massive and as suggestive of enduring strength as that of an oak.
John Muir, 1894.

Muir also states that individual storm-proven trees may reach the grand old age of 1000 years [3].

Keywords: conifers, Pinales, Pinaceae, white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), natural history, Sierra Nevada.

References and notes
[1] The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Pinus monticola [].
[2] Donald Culross Peattie: A Natural history of North American Trees. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2007 (first Copyright by D. C. Peattie in 1948); pp. 37-45.
[3] John Muir: The Mountains of California. The Century Company, New York, 1894. Note: see pages 143 to 144  in the Penguin Classics Book print of 1985 with an introduction by Edward Hoagland.

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