Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata)
The Bristlecone Pine is a native tree found naturally in scattered mountainous areas in the interior West. They are slow growing and very long-lived (over 4,000 years old) living on dry, tough sites. The old Bristlecone Pine trees found in the wild are always knarled and broken and looking dried out. How could organisms survive so long in such harsh environments, with ferocious, dessicating (drying through evaporation) winds, little rainfall, and very alkaline, sandy soil? It turns out that those dessicating winds are also an ally, as they discourage insects, fungus, and rot. Bristlecones are further protected from pests, disease, and dry winds alike by their dense, highly resinous wood.
However, if you're looking for an evergreen that would fit into a smaller landscape, the Bristlecone Pine is a good choice and it should be used more often. Of course if you plant this tree, you will never know whether it lives for 4000 years; but hey, who’s counting?. These trees work well in a naturalized area in a yard. They are also good in rock gardens or pruned as bonsai. They are distinctive with their gnarled and twisted growth, sticky white resin on the needles (some people confuse the resin for pine needle scale), and needles that are displayed in bundles of five. The needles are 1 to 1 ½ inches long and are dark green, giving a bushy appearance that resembles a fox's tail. They remain on the tree for 10 to 17 years. The fruit is a woody cone with a short stalk, about 3" to 3-1/2" long. These cones have brown thick scales and are tipped with a long bristle, giving the tree its name. Young bark is thin, smooth, and gray-while later becoming furrowed and reddish-brown. Old trees on harsh, windy sites may have only a few strands of bark remaining in crevices where it is protected from sandblasting winds. The wood is not used in commercial applications. It is fairly soft with the heartwood being light red brown.
Its shrubby form with an irregular spread makes the Bristlecone Pine quite picturesque. This tree needs little or no supplemental water once established which is particularly attractive as we all worry about our future water supplies.
Bristlecone Pine Choices
Sherwood Compact is a dense dwarf with shorter needles than found on the species.