Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Raintree
What old pines seem to like may kill them
Higher temps have mountain trees thriving — for now
By Stephanie Tavares (contact)

Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009 2 a.m.

Associated press / courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic garden
Some bristlecone pines, researchers have found, are growing much faster than usual.

Bristlecone pine facts■Bristlecone pines live only in a few spots in the mountains of the West and Southwest. One species, Pinus longaeva, lives in Nevada, Utah and California.■Bristlecones have an average age of 1,000 years. The oldest trees can be found near the tree line at between 10,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level. A bristlecone named “Methuselah” in the White Mountains of eastern California, just across the state line from Nevada’s Esmeralda County, is believed to be the oldest single living organism in the world. Based on a core sample, scientists have pegged its age at 4,767.■One secret to bristlecones’ longevity is their extremely slow growth rate — historically just tenths of an inch in girth each year. Their needles can live for up to three decades, which allows the trees to conserve energy and continue to photosynthesize through extreme weather and drought.
Beyond the Sun■High Elevation White Pines: Great Basin bristlecone pines
Nevada’s famous Great Basin bristlecone pines are experiencing a growth boom as temperatures have risen in their high-altitude homes. But the cause of the trees’ heyday could also signal that death is finally coming for the bristlecones, the world’s oldest living things.