The Bristlecone pine tree is one of the more impressive evergreens found in Colorado. While maybe not the tallest, widest, or fullest tree in town, the Bristlecone has some different characteristics. Other trees may grow five feet in a couple of years and grow to be over a hundred feet tall in their lifetimes. However, the Bristlecone pine is special in that it might take 500 years for it to reach five feet tall. Thus, a full-grown Bristlecone (generally between 20 to 40 feet) might be more than 1,500 years old.
The Bristlecones can outlast most other trees. These pines are able to survive immense amounts of wind, extremely harsh weather conditions, and many other adverse situations that would find most trees in the process of dying or already dead. Generally found above 7,000 feet and even up to heights of nearly 12,000 feet, these trees are the only evergreens able to survive at such extreme elevations.
In fact, extreme conditions are what this tree likes best. The Bristlecones fare very well in southerly facing places with rocky, dry soil, and little water. Because of this, many of these pines are very choosy about where they grow. There are certain parts of Colorado that are strewn with Bristlecone and others that are completely lacking. However, where these trees do grow, they grow in multitudes.
Huge groves of Bristlecone pines can be found on Pikes Peak and in other similar areas, and the sight is breathtaking. These groves are alive with color and the amazing aroma of the mountains—truly a treat for any outdoors person. These groves are actually not as common as one might assume. Though the mountains are covered in pine, the Bristlecones are much harder to find than other similar evergreens.
Identifying these trees is not always easy either, seeing as they have a fairly similar appearance to the Limber pine, and both grow in many of the same areas. However, there are a few unique characteristics that set it apart from its piney counterparts. Unlike other pines, these trees have shorter, glossy needles in groups of five. These needles might have small drops of sap or resin from the branches on them. They also live on the branches a lot longer than they do on most other conifers—sometimes sticking around for several years without falling off.
The cones on this tree are also very unique in that they have a bristle on the end of them—hence the name, Bristlecone pine. They often grow to three or more inches and bear tiny seeds inside. Along with that, the bark is a pretty distinct grey-white color with subtle splashes of red-purple in some cases. The bark is also very smooth and lacking a whole lot of thickness. This is noteworthy, since most conifers have very dark, thick, rough bark.
Though these trees may be confused with the Limber pine or other similar evergreens at times, the smaller needles and bristly pinecones of the Bristlecone trees set them apart from all other conifers.
By Jason Writz
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