Whitebark pine is found at high elevations in the Sierras, Cascades, and Rocky Mountains, and most mountain ranges in between. The range extends from central British Columbia south to California and east to Montana and Wyoming.
Endangered (IUCN Red List)
This species is
to the Truckee Meadows.
Whitebark pine, as the name implies, has light-colored bark, especially when young. Depending on the elevation, the tree can grow as tall as 90 feet or may present in krummholz (dwarf) form, existing low to the ground. Mature heights of up to 60 feet are more common. Whitebark pine frequently has multiple stems. The needles are green to yellow-green and in fascicles of five, with a deciduous sheath. Unlike western white pine, whitebark pine needles are smooth when rubbed either direction. Male (pollen-bearing) cones are small and bright red. Female (seed-bearing) cones are dark purple when immature and grow to be 1.5 to 3 inches long.The cones do not open when mature. Whitebark pine is easily confused with limber pine, but limber pine typically has slightly larger cones (2.5 to 4.5 inches) that open when mature. Limber pine is less common than whitebark pine in the Truckee River watershed.
The nuts of the whitebark pine are an important food source for Clark’s nutcracker, making it difficult to find intact cones on the ground
Whitebark pine is found at high elevations, so it is very susceptible to climate change. While other species can move to higher elevations to adapt to rising temperatures, whitebark pine already grows only on mountaintops.
The best place near Reno to observe whitebark pines is at the summit of the Mt. Rose Highway (State Route 431)
The whitebark pine is protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, but not the Endangered Species Act due to funding challenges within the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Elsie Childress (Research & Content)
Erin Larsen (Editor)