December

Pinus aristata

I thought given the recent weather Pinus aristata or Bristlecone Pine would be an appropriate choice. At up to 5,000 years old the species is considered to have the oldest living plants in the world, though there have been other claims for an Oak (Quercus) at 13,000 years old, but has not been verified because it is in scrub form. It’s a native of Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, along the Rocky Mountains where it grows at high altitude above 8,000 feet. The condition of the plants reflect their age, being rather knarled and bleached and in a broken down condition. However it has to be remembered that this tree is of another age and does not thrive at this altitude. A rather interesting story about its age and to verify it, an American student reputably cut down the oldest living specimen to count the rings. What is more interesting is that this species proved to be a living database of centuries past when the rings were analysed for its growth and health.

Originally named Pinus balfouriana var. aristata is a 5 needle pine, pines have needles in clusters of 2,3 or 5, which aids in their identification, and are about 2-3 inches long. The needles point forward, are blue green in colour with white resinous marks. Lasting for about 4 years the clusters are close together giving a dense appearance to the tree. The cones are unremarkable about 2-3 inches long and like the needles have white resinous marks. Healthy trees grow to a height of 50 feet. As with most Pine species there are now dwarf forms which are probably grafted. Kenwith Nursery has some dwarf forms of which Pinus aristata ; So Tight’ appears to be the most interesting

 My specimen is grafted and over 30 years old, is about 6 foot high and pruned regularly to keep its height. The branching structure on the plant allows spiders who spin orbicale webs to colonise the plant. Unfortunately for them the birds are aware of this and the blue tits and coal tits descend upon it for a few minutes in the autumn. Pines help to give character to a time of year when there is little else of interest. The problem with grafts is the rootstock, which can become quite broad depending on species used. Ordinary garden soil suits it but is unlikely to do well in salt laden winds.

James McCombe

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