Windswept Whitebarks

Posted by on Jul 27, 2015 | One Comment
Windswept Whitebarks

Krummholz is the German name that naturalists use for the form of trees that is so contorted by wind, snow and ice that they no longer form an upright tree but rather a matt or bush of foliage. They normally occur at very high elevation or other inhospitable locations where the wind is constant and the snow is common.

Whitebark Pine (P. albicaulis) in California is confined to the high Sierra Nevada with scattered populations in parts of the Cascade range. They occur mainly above 8,000 feet elevation. On my recent backpacking trip to the central Sierra I was back in my familiar hunting grounds mostly looking for more fantastic Sierra Juniper, but I was surprised to find instead some high ridges covered in Mountain Hemlock and Whitebark Pine. While the Hemlocks have nice foliage, they do not contort, at least in this area, the way that juniper and pine do; instead forming lush looking bush forms or flag and matt forms. While it was an enjoyable experience to see the hemlock, it was more interesting to get to see many examples of windswept whitebark pine. I was even lucky enough to see a Clark’s nutcracker flitting about.

Whitebark typically grow in clumps of three to five trees because the seeds are spread by Clark's nutcracker caching them for storage.  In this clump the tree on the right looks like it might have died, but a closer look reveals....

Whitebark typically grow in clumps of three to five trees because the seeds are spread by Clark’s nutcracker caching them for storage. In this clump the tree on the right looks like it might have died, but a closer look reveals…

A couple of lower sheltered branches are still alive.   The tree shows the same lifeline and deadwood characteristics as juniper in similar environments.

A couple of the lower sheltered branches are still alive. The tree shows similar lifeline and deadwood characteristics to juniper in similar environments.

A matt of Hemlock.   While there were many hemlock growing among the windswept pines, none of them really grabbed my attention, they were mostly  bushy forms with no deadwood or trunkline visible.

A matt of Hemlock. While there were many hemlock growing among the windswept pines, none of them really grabbed my attention, they were mostly bushy forms with no deadwood or trunkline visible.

Some of the forms are more dramatic than others; while some of the trees manage to grow upright, others simply look like a bush. A few are full of deadwood and twists and interplaying with the granite where they are growing.

Hugging the side of a cliff, this tree is filling in the cracks with both roots and branches.   The foliage hasn't made it far away from the rock in this compromised site.

Hugging the side of a cliff, this tree is filling in the cracks with both roots and branches. The foliage hasn’t made it far away from the rock in this compromised site.

A twisting matt of foliage and branching, this tree started at right and has been growing to the left for many decades.

A twisting matt of foliage and branching, this tree started at right and has been growing to the left for many decades.

The deadwood under many of the branches is quite well textured.   But, since pine wood is much less rot-resistant than juniper it's often hollow or crumbling.

The deadwood under many of the branches is quite well textured. But, since pine wood is much less rot-resistant than juniper it’s often hollow or crumbling.

Two masses of foliage hug the rocks closely, each filling in a space that is slightly more sheltered than the surroundings.

Two masses of foliage hug the rocks closely, each filling in a space that is slightly more sheltered than the surroundings.

An impressive tree with multiple trunks intertwining.

An impressive tree with multiple trunks intertwining. (click to see a larger copy)

The most impressive tree that I saw on the trip was a contorted mass of twists and turns

Roots twisting out of the cracks in the rocks...

Roots twisting out of the cracks in the rocks…

rotted trunk sections and more twisting wood...

rotted trunk sections and more twisting wood…

An amazing piece of twisting wood.   Perhaps the twists are caused by a genetic variation, but in the end it's just amazing.

An amazing piece of twisting wood. Perhaps the twists are caused by a genetic variation, but in the end it’s just amazing.

1 Comment

  1. Dan Wiederrecht
    July 28, 2015

    Great post! I haven’t packed in CA yet, but I think I’ll have to soon! 🙂