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1975 - Henry Mayo Newhall (Memorial) Hospital opens with 100 beds [story]
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Commentary by Linda Castro
| Thursday, Jun 25, 2015

LindaCastroWhat would be your response to the question, “What are the oldest trees in the world?”

If you guessed the giant sequoias, you guessed wrong. The oldest known giant sequoia is about 3,500 years old.

The oldest known Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva), named Methusela, is an impressive 4,841 years old. To put that into perspective, it means Methusela was already living during the 18th Egyptian dynasty (1300 B.C.) and when the Babylonian empire was flourishing (2635 B.C.).

trees2Methusela is located in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains in the Inyo National Forest, northeast of Bishop. The tree’s exact location is kept a secret in order to protect it from vandals. (An arsonist set fire to the visitor center and several pines in 2008, resulting in the destruction of the visitor center. A new visitor center has recently opened.)

In 1964, a researcher – with the permission of the Forest Service – cut down an older tree, named Prometheus, which was about 4,900 years old.

The oldest bristlecone pines are found in the mountains of eastern California. Other Great Basin bristlecone pines are found in high, mountainous regions of Nevada and Utah. A related species, the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) is found in Colorado and New Mexico, and there is one isolated stand near Flagstaff, Ariz.

While some species of bristlecone pines reach an age of more than 4,700 years, they are not very large. Mature trees are typically only 25 to 50 feet high.

New visitors center

New visitors center

What is equally amazing to their age is the fact that these trees can survive as long as they do in harsh conditions. These unique pines grow on windswept and almost barren slopes. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest provides extremely adverse conditions, with its arid land and rigors of an elevation of more than 10,000 feet. These hearty trees have adapted to their challenging environment and can even thrive in it.

People come from all over the world each year to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. They make the 22-mile trek from Highway 395 in Big Pine up the steep and winding roads to the Schulman Grove to see how wind-whipped sand, ice, drought and fire have sculptured the bristlecone pines into many beautiful shapes and forms. Naturalist John Muir wrote the following about the bristlecone pines:

trees1“(O)n the roughest ledges of crumbling limestone are lowly old giants, five or six feet in diameter, that have braved the storms of more than a thousand years. But whether old or young, sheltered or exposed to the wildest gales, this tree is ever found to be irrepressibly and extravagantly picturesque, offering a richer and more varied series of forms to the artist than any other species I have yet seen.”

Scientists theorize about the potential effects of climate change on the bristlecone pine – that warmer conditions may allow new, competing plants and insects and fire to damage or even obliterate the ancient pine groves – all the more reason for us to try to minimize our carbon footprint in this world.

It would be a shame to lose this amazing species that has been on Earth for so long.

 

Linda Castro is a nature enthusiast and animal lover.  She is the Desert Field Organizer for the California Wilderness Coalition and serves on the board of the SCV-based Community Hiking Club.  Her commentaries relate to California’s deserts.

 

trees3

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3 Comments

  1. Such a fascinating place! Taken August 2013

  2. I did a lot of research and was able to find Methusela. It’s amazing to see.

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