Thursday, August 15, 2013

Accompanying the dwarf pine in some Sierra locations: needle pine (Pinus aristata)

Pinus aristata tassel, Wilbur D. May Arboretum
Pinus aristata is currently grouped into the subgenus Ducampopinus (bristlecone pines, lacebark pines, pinyons), within the genus Pinus, based on cone, seed and leaf characters [1-3]: known under the common name Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, Pinus aristata is closely related to the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) and the foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana) within the subsection Balfourianae (foxtail pines). These are mountain pines, growing at high elevation in the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin ranges. Pinus aristata's present distribution range includes the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona [4,5].

Interestingly, John Muir writes about the occurrence of Pinus aristata, to which he refers with the common name needle pine, in the Sierra Nevada, California—restricted to the area of the Kings and Kern river headwaters in the southern portion of the range. Muir says that the needle pine forms extensive forests there, accompanying the dwarf pine in some of these high-altitude places near the limit of tree growth [6]:

It is first met at an elevation of between 9000 and 10,000 feet, and runs up to 11,000 without seeming to suffer greatly from the climate or the leanness of the soil. It is a much finer tree than the Dwarf Pine. Instead of growing in clumps and low, heathy mats, it manages in some way to maintain an erect position, and usually stands single. Wherever the young trees are at all sheltered, they grow up straight and arrowy, with delicately tapered bole, and ascending branches terminated with glossy bottle-brush tassels. 
John Muir, 1894.

The above picture shows a Pinus aristata tassel of a bristlecone pine tree planted and sheltered in the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Reno, Washoe County, Nevada—with an elevation of about 4,500 feet (1,370 m) a high-desert location, but situated much lower than typical habitats of bristlecone trees.

Keywords: conifers, Pinales, Pinaceae, section Parrya, taxonomy, natural history.

References and more to explore
[1] Encyclopedia of Life: Ducampopinus [].
[2] ArunPrasat26: Pinus classification. Blogger, September 1, 2007 [].
[3] Tree Names: Pine Tree Species Names Classification of the Pinus Genus [].
[4] USDA: Pinus aristata Engelm. [].
[5] F. Craig Brunstein and David K. Yamaguchi: The Oldest Known Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pines (Pinus aristata Engelm.). Arctic and Alpine Research, Aug 1992, 24 (3), pp. 253-256 [].
[6] John Muir: The Mountains of California. The Century Company, New York, 1894. Note: see pages 152 to 154 in the Penguin Classics Book print of 1985 with an introduction by Edward Hoagland.

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