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Great Basin Bristlecone Pine is among the oldest single living organisms ever discovered on earth. Generally it is recognized as the world's oldest continuously standing tree. Bristlecone Pine grows very slowly seldom adding more than 1 in. per 100 years and thrives in the most strenuous conditions. Usually the species inhabits on a bedrock of dolomite, the mineral rock with a higher moisture content than surrounding rocks. Dolomite is an alkaline substrate tolerated by only a few of living species. The latter eliminates competition with faster growing trees as they simply do not grow in such a harsh and unfriendly environment: high altitudes, chill, aridity, strong winds, radiation and alkaline substrate. The growing season is very short. The tree uses more energy for survival than for growing. So its wood becomes very dense and resinous. All that discourages insects and strongly prevents from rot, fungus, pests and disease. However, those who think all that is unknown to Great Basin Bristlecone Pine are under delusion. Truth, the decay process is very slow, but inevitable. It's nevertheless paradoxical that the individuals survive longest where conditions are most harsh. The species grows in exposed sites at high altitudes, one tree far apart from another. The latter prevents spread of fire caused by lightning.

Bristlecone Pine grove on the southern slope of Snake Range, Nevada. (R.V. Byenes)

Another thing is Great Basin Bristlecone Pine has developed a trick for living so long: it dies gradually. As the tree ages, some roots die because of surface erosion, lack of nutrition, or other reasons. The tree's sector supported by that root dies along with its bark leaving exposed wood. But some roots remain alive. That process is slow but never stops. Finally, much of the tree's bark dies. It's not unusual old individuals only have a narrow strip of living tissue connecting the roots to couple of live branches. The tree needs just a few needles and a bit of living bark to survive. It is improbable that even a single living branch of almost 5,000 years old tree has the ability to produce seeds that will grow. Bristlecone Pine remains standing for hundreds of years after it dies until it finally falls down affected by decay of supporting roots.

Strangely, this ancient Bristlecone Pine in GBNP, Nevada is still alive. A strip of bark seen on the lower right support a few branches located behind the tree. (R.V. Byenes)

The oldest known living Great Basin Bristlecone Pine nicknamed Methuselah grows in the White Mountains, CA.  "The age of Methuselah was measured by core samples in 1957 to be 4,789 years old". It means Methuselah will turn 4,842 at the end of growing season in 2010. Dr. Edmund Schulman, late scientist, has collected a core sample of even older specimen years ago. Himself, he didn't count the rings of that tree's core. Other researchers did the job later. The tree, as Methuselah, is still alive. Yet another specimen  Prometheus has been cut down in 1964 at the age of 4,950+. Exact locations of the oldest trees are kept in secret as a protection against vandalism.

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