Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bristlecone pines 2

Bristlecone pines, Pinus longaeva

I have been to see the bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains a number of times, but not yet in winter, when snow adds to their photogenic qualities.  I have also seen and photographed them on Wheeler Peak in Nevada, and in Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah.

Bristlecone pine tree, Great Basin, Nevada

There are three species of bristlecone pines, but the longest lived of them is Pinus longaeva, which grows at high altitude in the Great Basin of eastern California, Nevada and Utah.

The oldest bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains of California are 5000 years old.  They were growing when Stonehenge was built, before horses were tamed for human use.  They are the longest-lived non-clonal plants in the world.  They have been extensively studied in the Schulman Grove, at 3000 metres in the White Mountains.

Bristlecone pine forest, Schulman Grove, White Mountains, CA

Bristlecone trunk and foliage

Bristlecone pines grow very slowly in an alpine environment (between 1700 and 3400 metres) in dry conditions on rocky, dolomite soils, which are alkaline and nutrient poor.  The trunk may increase only a few centimeters in girth in a century.  The wood is dense, and resistant to insects and disease. At 3400 metres in the Patriarch Grove, it is thought that a drier climate is making the area no longer suitable for regeneration, and only the old, dead  trees remain.

Bristlecone pine trees, Patriarch Grove, White Mountains, CA

Dead bristlecone pine trees, Patriarch Grove, White Mountains, CA

Bristlecone pine trees, Patriarch Grove, White Mountains, CA

The wood lasts for a very long time even after the tree has died, and pieces of wood have been found that are over 11 000 years old.  Tree ring patterns in dead wood can be matched to those in other dead pieces, and eventually to a living tree to create chronologies going back the whole 11 000 years.  These accurately dated tree ring patterns are important because they have been used to re-calibrate the radiocarbon dating process, and more accurately date artifacts from this period.

Piece of dead bristlecone pine, Schulman Grove, White Mountains, CA

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bristlecone pines

I have been fascinated by the ancient bristlecone pine forests of the western US, and have photographed them in the White Mountains of California, both at Schulman Grove and Patriarch Grove, on Wheeler Peak in Nevada, and at Cedar Breaks in Utah.  I will post some of my images next week.

Schulman Grove, White Mountains

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

North American Cacti: examples of smaller forms

I photographed this beautiful little ball cactus, Escobaria vivipara, in Curt Gowdy State Park, in Wyoming.

Escobaria vivipara

I am very attracted to neat, compact, spherical-shaped cacti that occur singly, or in mounds.  This mound cactus from Dog Canyon in Oliver Lee State Park, New Mexico is a great example that melds into the rock.

Mound cactus

Also from Dog Canyon, this little cactus with the large flower is one I’ve been unable to put a name to. 

Unknown cactus

The claret cup cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus, is a common and variable species, with beautiful red flowers.  Cacti in this genus are often referred to as hedgehog cacti.  The plant in the first photograph is in Chiricahua National Monument, southern Arizona, and the second one is at Chaco Culture in New Mexico.

Claret cup cactus

Claret cup cactus

Echinocactus horizonthalonius, or blue barrel cactus, has a profusion of strong, sharp spines, and is relatively inconspicuous.  Because of the hazard of inadvertently stepping on a specimen, it is sometimes known as horse crippler.

Blue barrel cactus

There are many kinds of the well-known prickly pear cactus, and while some, like the beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) are easily identified, others are hard to distinguish.  They have beautiful flowers, and with good rainfall a mature plant may produce many flowers.  This prickly pear flower was photographed at Chaco Culture.  The beavertail cactus plant is on Mt Ryan, in Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Flowering prickly pear cactus

Beavertail cactus

Thursday, January 9, 2014

North American Cacti: ‘tree-like’ cacti.

Saguaro in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

The saguaro cactus Carnegiea gigantea grows into column that can be 20 metres high.  It occurs naturally in the Sonoran Desert, in southern Arizona in the USA and in Mexico.  The flowers are produced near the growing point at the top of the plant, or at the end of an ‘arm’, from April to June.  They open at night, as bats pollinate them, so the best time to see the flowers is in the early morning.

Saguaro, Organ Pipe Cactus NM
Saguaro flower and buds

Like trees, birds nest in saguaros.  Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers excavate holes high up in the column, and other birds will use one of their holes when it has been vacated.  When a saguaro dies, the flesh rots away to leave a characteristic wooden skeleton with a lattice of holes.  This wooden structure supports the plant in life.

Saguaro, Organ Pipe Cactus NM

Cactus wood, Alamo Canyon, Organ Pipe Cactus
Other cacti that are tree-like include several in the Opuntia group.  Cylindropuntia bigelovii, teddy bear cholla, from the southwestern United States and Mexico, grows as a branched shrub with a distinct trunk that darkens with age.  The branches are covered with dense, white spines, giving the plant a furry appearance, but it is anything but furry to the touch.  Pretty, greenish-yellow flowers appear in early summer.  New plants are mostly produced from offshoots of mature plants: small pieces easily become detached, blow around in the wind, and, when they lodge somewhere, grow into a new plant. 

Teddy Bear Cholla, Lost Dutchman State Park

Teddy Bear Cholla flower, Joshua Tree National Park

Opuntia chlorotica, the pancake cactus, is also a tree-like plant, growing to more than 2 m high, with very round pads and a thick trunk.  It also occurs in the southwestern United States and Mexico, growing in sand or rock, usually on steep, rocky slopes, often in canyons.  This example is from Mt Ryan, in Joshua Tree National Park, CA.  Like many other prickly pears, it has yellow flowers.

Pancake Prickly Pear, Joshua Tree National Park

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Introducing Pol

I live in the South Island of New Zealand, an area with a small human population compared to its landmass.  I enjoy photography, but don’t call myself a photographer, as by training and profession I am an entomologist, with a former life as a secondary school physics teacher.  I have had a camera since I was a child, taking photographs mainly on trips and holidays.  Joining the Nature Photography Society of New Zealand (NPSNZ) in 2005 gave me the impetus to take photography more seriously.  Then just over a year ago I began posting daily images on Blipfoto, and this has helped me further develop my photography. 

My favourite shooting locations are mountains and deserts.  I am especially attracted to the national parks and other natural areas of western North America, where a camping and hiking lifestyle lends itself to my kind of photography.  At home in New Zealand I like to camp up high to take advantage of the morning and evening light without having to drive to places in the dark. 

I like to photograph landscapes, rocks, trees, flowers, mammals more than birds, lizards and occasionally insects.  My preferred approach is fast and light. To capture the moment during fast-changing lighting conditions, a moving animal, or plant blowing in the wind, I want to be instantly in the right place, ready to click the shutter, so I handhold my camera whenever possible.

The North American publication, ‘Outdoor Photographer’ is my favourite magazine, and the late Galen Rowell, one of its former columnists, was my early inspiration.  I still enjoy his work in the Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop, California.  I also appreciate many other photographers, but don’t have any particular favourites.