DISCOVERY               v Geography v Environment v Structure v Longevity v Science v Threats v Inspiration v
Bristlecone pines are the oldest single living organisms ever discovered on earth. The oldest living trees are nearly 5,000 years! It seems likely some of them exceeding that age exist. The oldest individuals are older than Stonehenge and Egyptian Pyramids, and is still alive today. The species has been discovered not long ago though. Bristlecone pines struggle extremely harsh weather conditions and form groves, ancient mysterious settlements, high in the mountains at the very edge of timberline. However, they occupy some special locations in western U.S.
It is likely that the species was discovered by no one man. For an obvious reason some discoverers remain unknown or pass out of history while others become a part of it. As regards the bristlecone pines, it is quite a tangled affair. Later it turned out there is a completeness of three subspecies of foxtail bristlecone pines (Pinus balfouriana, Pinus aristata, and Pinus longaeva) within single species named Pinus balfouriana (named on the basis of priority) and no two of them have been ever traced growing intermixed. The latter brings in some more of blur. Moreover, it was proved in 1970 that the difference between bristlecone pines (known as Pinus aristata) that grow in the eastern territory and their western congeners is enough to assert of two relative but different subspecies. Western trees have been named Pinus longaeva and have a starring role for a variety of reasons both in this site and on the whole.
John Jeffrey, the Scottish explorer has discovered foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana that acquired its name from John Hutton Balfour who described J.Jeffrey's sample branches) on Scott Mountains, CA in 1852. Further J.Jeffrey's fatal fate is not clear. He left from San Diego to cross the Colorado Desert  searching for unknown plants. According to Donald Culross Peattie he was either killed by Indians or died of thirst. Jeffrey had no but a few friends and nobody missed him when he did not return for quite a long time. Dramatic scene of discovery of bristlecone pines did not finish with that.



Branches and deadwood of bristlecone pines. Snake Range, Nevada. (R.V. Byenes)

It was late August of 1853 when Frederick Creutzfeldt, a German botanist, collected a few branches from a pine he has never seen before. The tree grew near Cochetopa Pass, CO. Today we know Creutzfeldt cut branches of Pinus aristata. The botanist was a member of the ill-fated Gunnison expedition of 1853-54 whose duty was to survey a route for a railroad to the Pacific. The scientist was killed along with Captain John Williams Gunnison, commander of the expedition,  and most of the others of the party in an ambush near Delta on October 26, 1853. Durwood Ball describes that brutal murder also known as Gunnison Massacre in his book "Army Regulars on the Western Frontier, 1848-1861". However, it's controversial as varying accounts accuse  Pahvants (Ute Indians), the Mormons, or both of murdering the party. One way or another, the collected pine branches were looted after they have committed the deed. Soon, the Mormons made a deal and shipped the recovered branches east to the botanists. For classification reason it is necessary the branches also have cones and scientists need to know the exact location where the samples came from. The latter two factors were missing in that case.

Have questions, requests, comments, suggestions? Please e-mail us. We are happy to hear from you!