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What twists our bristlecone pines?

Article and photo by Barbara Neff

Hiking this past spring in Douglas County’s beautiful Castlewood Canyon, I wondered for the first time why bristlecone pine trees, seen along many Colorado trails, seem to always grow in a spiral. I asked staff at the park and even made a few phone calls to local arborists. Though they have theories, the answer to the question, “Why do bristlecone pine trees grow in a twisted way?” is this: Nobody really knows.

One common theory is that the wind blows the tree around its entire life, causing it to twist. But, that does not explain why all trees in windy areas do not grow this way. Another theory is that bristlecone pines and all plants grow in directions that follow the sun. While this is true, such tendencies to follow sunlight do not make all plants form spirals. The true basis for the tendency to grow twisted trunks seems to be simple genetics.

Fun information about twisted bristlecone pine trees can be found  Wing is an author and a high school teacher. According to Wing, bristlecone pines are the oldest trees in the world. He states that some are 5,000 years old. He also examines theories about their spiral growth on his website.

Twisted bristlecone pines. One more beautiful mystery found in the Colorado outdoors.



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