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The Cone-bearing Trees of Yosemite (1939) by James E. Cole


WESTERN WHITE PINE

Pinus monticola Doual.

Western White Pine, Pinus monticola
[click to enlarge]
From elevations of 8000 feet to just below timber-line, Western White Pines, or “Little Sugar Pines” as they are frequently called, become the prominent trees of the upper forested zone. When found growing at their lower range in company with Red Firs, their widely spreading characteristic branches are hidden by the taller, sharp-pointed firs. But from the fir belt to timber-line where other trees become more and more dwarfed, Western White Pines, steadily climbing upward, always retain the magnificent form and size which contrasts so strikingly with their smaller associates. In the company of. shorter Lodgepole Pines over which they can spread unrestrained, these pines exhibit their customary few, but long, stout branches. Living apart, aloof and stately in the shallow dry soil of rocky ridges their resemblance to the regal Sugar Pines is most striking. This similarity is suggested by the few, overdeveloped, horizontal arms of the middle crown that boldly sweep out beyond other slender branches for distances of ten to fifteen feet.

The most evident character which distinguishes Western White Pines from Sugar Pines is the manner of growth of the crowns. The upper branches of the Sugar Pine are stout and spread horizontally while the Western White Pine have slender, sharply ascending, often nearly upright, branches at the top except when gracefully recurved by the weight of the clusters of cones.

Likewise, the Western White Pine may also be recognized from afar by its trunk. No other Yosemite conifer has a similar bark pattern. It is divided into small, nearly square plates that gives a readily usable diagnostic character. This checkerboard-like bark is especially noticeable on trees exposed to winds. In these situations the bark changes from the brownish-gray color normal to young trees and those dwelling in dense protected stands, to a beautiful cinnamon-red. Old trunks commonly measure five feet in diameter and occasionally specimens seven feet through are found. The largest known Western White Pine in Yosemite has a diameter of eight feet above the root swell, and towers 120 feet high. Fortunately, it is rather accessible, and may be sought for about one-half mile west of Porcupine Flat by tree admirers who travel the Tioga Road. Another monarch of practically the same size grows near the summit of the Sunrise Trail. A few typical trees are visible from the Glacier Point Road. They should be looked for at the end of a long piece of straight road when approaching Glacier Point on an open sandy slope between the road and Sentinel Dome soon after the first view of the dome is obtained. Several small trees cling to cracks in the bare granite of Sentinel Dome along the trail to the top. They are numerous along the upper parts of the trails to Half Dome and Clouds Rest.

An examination of the foliage will show that these Western White Pines have the same number of needles in each bundle that the word “white” has letters—five. The leaves, from two to three and one-half inches long, grow in terminal tufts at the tips of the branches. They are bluish-green, with a whitish tinge, very slender and somewhat blunter pointed than the needles of Sugar Pines which they otherwise closely resemble. Even a forester seldom cares to attempt determinations of these two from needles alone, but if any new growth is present, the Western White Pine can be recognized by the brownish down that covers the young shoots.

When present, the cones furnish positive identification. They are like diminutive Sugar Pine cones when ripe with the same richly contrasting colors oh the cone scales—yellowish-brown on the tips, purplish-brown on the inner surfaces. The immature cones are narrowly cylindrical and dark purplish or greenish when young Although less than half as long as Sugar Pine cones, being usually six to eight inches, they are, nevertheless, nearly as conspicuous when found growing on the smaller Western White Pine trees as the enormous cones are on Sugar Pines. In both they are borne only at the ends of the upper branches where they hang in clusters. The tips of immature cones and to a less extent the old ones also are prominently curved.

Just below the limit of tree growth, these trees, when present, seek shelter for there they seem unable to endure, like the crouching Hemlocks and White-bark Pines, the hurricane gales that sweep exposed slopes. Whenever Western White Pines are found above the fir belt, except at timber-line, they tower over their associates tall and erect like guardians, yet ever extending friendly arms to welcome other mountaineers to their alluring domain.



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