Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Visiting an Old Tree Friend

Five years ago, I came across a blog post about a young sycamore (maple in the USA) emerging from a street drain! It was discovered by Lucy Corrander, a member of a loose-knit group of tree-followers. Lucy informally “led” the group by periodically listing recent tree-following posts. Anticipating tree camaraderie, I decided to follow a limber pine (Pinus flexilis). Like Lucy’s sycamore, it started life in a dark out-of-the-way place—a five-foot-deep crevice in a granite outcrop. That must have been many hundreds of years ago, judging by its situation and size.
Sycamore (maple) emerging from its dark wet home in 2012. Lucy reports it’s still growing there!
Limber pine emerging from a granite crevice near Blair Picnic Area in the southern Laramie Mountains.

There were enough tree-followers that Lucy organized monthly gatherings facilitated by Mister Linky, now hosted by The Squirrelbasket. In the years since, I’ve followed a cottonwood, a willow and a serviceberry—always interesting and fun.
Consider joining us!
Though there’s no obligation, I’ve mostly been diligent in my monthly reporting … until this year. That’s because I decided to follow a Powell palmetto, which has been extinct for millions of years. The beautiful fossilized frond in a hallway in the Geology building was irresistible. But I soon ran out of palm and fossil stories, and work and weather have kept me from visiting its lithified habitat on the other side of Wyoming. In the meantime, I’ve wandered from tree to tree. This month I visited my old friend, the limber pine.
From the approach, it hardly looks impressive—half dead and leaning severely. But up close, it’s spectacular! What character!! I like to look at the big scarred tree leaning against the rock and imagine its early years, back when it was a slender youngster living down where the sun rarely shone and snow melted late each spring. It couldn’t have grown more than a minuscule amount each year!
When the sapling reached the rim of the crevice, did it experience a growth spurt? Maybe relatively-speaking. The growing season is short (8000 feet elevation), though being evergreen, a limber pine will photosynthesize in winter if there's a “warm” day.

Surely the Wyoming wind blew the supple young tree against the rock on a regular basis. Maybe that’s why there’s a large bark-less scar where it meets the crevice rim …
… or maybe not. On the other side, the bark joins tightly with the granite.
In addition to the scar at the rim, strips bare of bark wind up the trunk. Several large roots are exposed and vulnerable, if not already dead. A good portion of the crown is dead. But the remaining live branches are healthy, their branchlets thick with needles.
The limber pine looks healthiest viewed from above.

As for change … there were some obvious ones. Several minor branches covered in green needles five years ago are now brown.
Five years ago my field assistant was Sparky, who was always happy to pose when I pulled out the camera. Now Spark is gone, replaced by Emmie, who still hasn’t figured out what a camera’s for, even after three years of fieldwork.

And those aches and pains I felt scrambling up to visit the tree this year, were they around five years ago? Hmmm. You know, I don’t remember …


  1. That is an impressive tree! Fascinating that they can grow out of outcroppings and cracks like that! Trees are awesome. I thought about participating in the tree meme again this year, but I'm not getting around to it.

    1. Hope you can join us at some point, Beth. Your observations are always so interesting.

  2. What a lovely post! The passage of time can be so poignant.
    I looked back at your original posting about the tree, too. Fascinating.
    I don't think I can see anywhere an estimate for the tree's age? If it has grown so little in five years, it must be quite an old-timer!
    Thank you so much for continuing to contribute such thoughtful insights every month.
    And Beth - please DO join us!
    All the best :)

    1. Thanks, Pat. I was afraid to go very far in dating the limber pine --"many hundreds of years" was all I felt comfortable with. But I wouldn't be surprised if it were a lot older. Limber pines grow super slowly, and survive in the harshest of habitats (for our trees). Big thousand-year-old individuals are not all that rare!