In August Leonard and I climbed Mount Lassen. The higher we climbed the more stunted and deformed the whitebark pines (Pinus albicaulis) along the trail became. I was enchanted by the shape of these conifers and the tenacity with which they clung to life.

A timberline tree, whitebark pines grow tall with a single main axis in protected situations. However, in exposed situations these pines form broad mats hugging the rocky ridges or are dwarfish with twisted and contorted trunks. Stunted, deformed vegetation found in subarctic areas or near the subalpine tree line is known as “krummholz”. The term means “crooked wood” and comes from the German words “krumm”/twisted, bent, crooked and “holz”/wood.

Coniferous species are most usually associated with krummholz. The word also can apply to trees found along beaches where deformation is also caused by persistent, fierce winds.

Intense winds and ice buildup kill apical (growing) buds, causing trees to grow more horizontally and die on the exposed side. When roots and foliage die on one side of the tree, spiral growth occurs. This twisted trunk is better able to distribute water when one side of the tree is damaged and protect the tree from desiccation.

More information about whitebark pines may be found in a previous post (10-27-17 Whitebark Pine).

The whitebark pines near Lassen Peak and elsewhere may struggle for survival in their harsh environment, yet their krummholz growth patterns are picturesque and beautiful to behold.

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Scarlet Gilia

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Ipomopsis aggregata is a plant of many names, both scientific and common. A member of the Phlox Family (Polemoniaceae), this extremely variable wildflower is surrounded in taxonomic confusion, much of which has to do with the flower color. It varies … Continue reading

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Surf Scoter

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Every time I stand amid the breakers along the Pacific Coast, I am reminded of the awesome power of the waves as they crash onto the shore. It is difficult to even stand up in water that is barely up … Continue reading

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Golden-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) winter along the Pacific Coast and spend summers on the tundra and in shrublands from British Columbia to Alaska. Even though we are located further inland, their bright yellow heads brighten our winter landscape. Soon they … Continue reading

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Checkerspot Caterpillar

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In April while Leonard and I were hiking the Wapama Falls Trail at Yosemite National Park (California), I noticed an interesting caterpillar. The caterpillar had black and white longitudinal markings and rows of short, black spines on an orange base. … Continue reading

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Aspen Clones

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Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) reproduces both by seeds and root sprouts. This Willow Family (Salicaceae) member is dioecious, having male and female flowers on different plants. These unisexual, densely clustered, hairy, pendant catkins produce capsules, fruits that split open at … Continue reading

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Quaking Aspen

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Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is the most widely distributed tree in North America. It ranges from Atlantic to Pacific, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. In western North America quaking aspen becomes more and more confined to high-mountain habitats … Continue reading

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