March 14, 2008 in Features

Hardy pine holds its own

By The Spokesman-Review
SUSAN MULVIHILL Special to photo

Bristlecone pines are considered to be the oldest single living organisms on Earth, with a life span of up to 5,000 years. Special to
(Full-size photo)

At a glance

Bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata)

Family: Pinaceae (pine)

Height: 8 to 20 feet

Light: Prefers sun

Soil: All types

Moisture: Moderate

Hardiness: USDA zones 4-7

Because this winter’s snow is taking its time to melt, any plant that provides us with a little greenery to look at is a welcome addition to the landscape right now. One plant that fills the bill is the bristlecone pine.

Also called Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine and hickory pine, these evergreens are native to the high mountain regions of the West, which are pretty inhospitable locations. That means these guys are tough as nails. The trees usually top out at about 20 feet but are very slow growers. As a result, some gardeners actually grow bristlecone pines in pots.

They are sometimes called “foxtail pines” because of their bushy appearance. The pine’s branches remind me of bottle brushes. The name “bristlecone” refers to the bristly “claw” on the tip of each pinecone scale.

These trees can tolerate drought and heat but prefer regular watering. Because of their attractive foliage, many gardeners grow these pines as an accent or specimen tree in the landscape.

Bristlecones have some interesting features. They have a very dense growth habit with a wide trunk. The needles, which grow in groups of five, are a pleasant dark green in color and can remain on the branches for as long as 15 years. What really stand out are the needles’ distinctive white resin spots, which can be mistaken for scale insects. They also have dark purple pinecones that are about three inches long. The cones take two years to mature before turning brown.

Since a bristlecone pine can live up to 5,000 years, make sure you’re really happy with where you plant it! To see some growing locally, go to the lower area of the Joel E. Ferris Perennial Gardens in Manito Park.

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