Whitebark pine

Pinus albicaulis
Whitebark pine Whitebark pine

A subalpine tree that varies in shape from a small tree with a rapidly spreading trunk and broad crown to a shrub with a wide-spreading crown and twisted, gnarled branches when exposed to strong winds. It is similar in appearance to limber pine, but its cones are quite different.

Whitebark pine cones and leaves

Leaves
Needles occur in bunches of five, ranging from 3 to 9 centimetres long; they are stiff, slightly curved, usually bluish-green, and tend to be clumped towards the ends of branches.

Cones
Seed cones are egg-shaped to almost round, 3 to 8 centimetres long, and grow at right angles to the branch; the scales grow in roughly 5 spiral rows. The cones are permanently closed and the seeds are released when the cones decay on the ground. Seeds are large - about a centimetre long - and wingless.

Whitebark pine cones and leaves
Whitebark pine bark Bark
Thin, smooth, and chalky-white on young stems; as the tree gets older, the bark becomes thicker and forms narrow, brown, scaly plates.

Where to find whitebark pine
It occurs at high elevations in southern British Columbia.

Habitat
Whitebark pine prefers to grow on dry to moderately moist sites in subalpine areas.

The whitebark pine has a special relationship with the Clark's nutcracker. The bird uses its slender, long, curved beak to break open the cones and remove the seeds. The nutcracker then buries the seeds for winter meals. If the nutcracker forgets where it buries the seeds they are in an ideal environment for germination and sprouting. Grizzly bear are known to feed on whitebark pine seed caches.

Where to find whitebark pine
Uses
The Thompson people ate the seeds of the whitebark pine (pinenuts) both raw and roasted. They collected the cones in the fall and dried them to open the scales. They extracted the seeds and ate them fresh or sometimes preserved them for winter by cooking and crushing them and then mixing them with dried berries.

Notes
The scientific name albicaulis literally means the "pine with white stems" in reference to the white bark that is especially noticeable on younger trees.

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