Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser
Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Native Plant Sale

Every Thursday





Become a Volunteer

Join the Friends

Donate to the Garden's Future


The garden is located at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley, CA


Like June 2015 Newsletter on Facebook


June 2015
The White Mountains and the
Kings of Age: Bristlecone Pines


The ever-challenging quest to name the oldest organisms has taken us across the earth, sampling wood cores and estimating ages of trees and their clones. Depending on point of view, clonal species like quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) outstrip any single tree, but when it comes to a single tree, the bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) rules. However, even though ages of over 4,600 years have been counted in living trees, and even though matching pieces of wood from deceased trees pushes the age even farther, an ancient bristlecone tree may only have one or two twigs that are still alive, calling into question just what we’re measuring and why.

"Sculpture" of a dead bristlecone pine

Bristlecone pine loaded with seed cones

Despite the complexity of the matter, bristlecone pines deserve a visit to experience first hand their ability to survive under punishing circumstances—rocky, fast-draining slopes, shallow soils, little snow and rain, drying winds, and short growing seasons. Few other trees are capable of living under these demanding circumstances. Add to that the beauty of the stark landscape in which they live: a combination of snowy white dolomitic soils, picturesque shapes, and sculptured remains. The dead trees remain standing for eons for lack of fungal decomposition, stained, blasted, and tinted by their environment into works of art.
The White Mountains, straddling the border between California and Nevada and forming a tall barrier east of the Owens Valley, are without peer for encountering bristlecone pines, harboring the oldest known specimens as well as the largest patriarch. Reaching over 14,000 feet high, the Whites combine spectacular vistas of the east face of the Sierra Nevada with open sweeps of high desert scenery, bristlecone pine forests, and alpine fellfields, among the most extensive in the state.

Sierra from the White Mountains


A transect of the White Mountains begins in the foothills just east of the town of Big Pine on Hwy 162, which meanders through shadscale scrub and creosote bush scrub—desert communities extending north from the Mojave in the south—then passing permanent springs with a wealth of special plants restricted to that special niche, squeezing through a narrow, cliffed canyon painted with lichens, and climbing into pinyon-juniper woodland and sagebrush scrub. Turning onto White Mountain Road continues the uphill journey through more high-desert country with periodic vistas of the Sierra, finally entering small groves of bristlecone pines punctuated with the limber pine (Pinus flexilis), another survivor of harsh conditions with a far shorter lifespan and an indicator of more fertile soils.

Alpine fellfields in bloom in the White Mountains


The paved portion of White Mountain Road terminates at Schulman Grove, where two trails wind through prime bristlecone pine country, home of the oldest known surviving trees. For those who don’t mind driving a gravel road, you can continue on several miles to the Patriarch Grove, home to the largest trees, or turn off on a spur road to the excellent facilities of the Crooked Creek Research Station hosted by the U.C. system, or follow another spur to 13,000-foot Barcroft Research Station located just beyond high-mountain meadows. All of these destinations provide breathtaking views and a dramatic introduction to the diversity here despite the harsh climate.


The White Mountains are home to a surprising number of beautiful wildflowers and shrubs, which from late May to early August display a colorful mosaic in a land of extremes. Among the many jewels are the fern bush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium), with fragrant, fernlike leaves and spikes of white single-rose-like flowers; wax currant (Ribes cereum), a shrub with fragrant leaves and nodding clusters of pale pink flowers followed by tasty berries; old man cactus (Opuntia erinacea), forming low mounds of fleshy pads covered with long whiskery hairs and surprisingly beautiful blond flowers; joint-firs (Ephedra spp.), curious green-twigged, nearly leafless shrubs that bear tiny pollen cones or seed cones; rock spiraea (Petrophytum caespitosum), a matted woody cushion plant with dense foliage clothing branches that conform to their rocky home; and blue desert sage (Salvia dorrii), a fragrant, gray-leafed shrublet with spikes of clear-blue flowers. Add to this the mounded cushion plants growing among rock fields, the glorious golden daisies of alpine gold (Hulsea algida), and the myriad kinds of wild buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.), penstemons (Penstemon spp.), and bulbs like the mariposa tulip Calochortus bruneaunis, and you enter a world of beautiful native plants.

Alpine gold, Hulsea algida, in the White Mountains

Flower of the mariposa-tulip, Calochortus bruneaunus


To sample this area, you can stay at many good motels in Bishop, which hosts a wide variety of other facilities, or book a stay at the Crooked Creek Research Station, or camp among pinyons and junipers just below the bristlecone forests. We’re currently offering a blended trip to the White Mountains and eastern Sierra, a fundraiser for the Regional Parks Botanic Garden that will transport you to this land of pines, mountains, and high desert.

Glenn Keator


Bristlecone Pines and Wildflowers in the
White Mountains and the East Side of the Sierra
July 2-6, 2015

Glenn Keator and Regional Parks Botanic Garden supervisor Joe Dahl will lead a trip to the White Mountains and the Eastern Sierra as a fundraiser for the Botanic Garden on July 2-6. Participants will stay at the Crooked Creek Research Station in the White Mountains while exploring the habitats and plants of this special place.

For more information and registration, visit


Native Here Nursery’s
“Sense of Place” Summer Talk Series:
Focus on Water

Native Here Nursery is all about a sense of place: The plants are locally native, grown from seed and cuttings collected in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Featuring these plants in your garden links you to the insects, the birds, the soil types, the geography of this place where we live. And also to the climate, which is drought prone, a characteristic with which we all now have first-hand experience.

The theme of water leads us to water conservation through talks on irrigation efficiency, no-irrigation native plant gardening, and “losing your lawn.” The water theme also leads us to consider East Bay plants that require the driest of habitats and those that require the wettest of habitats, manzanitas and redwoods respectively. In addition, we will explore the theme of water and sense of place as part of the human experience in our East Bay landscape through poetry readings and music.

Time: Saturdays, 10:30 to Noon
Location: Native Here Nursery, 101 Golf Course Drive, Berkeley, CA
See the Native Here Nursery website for more details (

June 6
Water-wise Gardening with Native Plants
With Margo Cunningham, Dave Drummond, and Anita Pereira
Margot was the sales manager for Native Here for 13 years before retiring in 2013. Dave is a co-founder of California Habitats Indigenous Activists, which has created and is maintaining a native coastal prairie along the Ohlone Greenway. Anita created a wonderful habitat home for butterflies, bees, birds, frogs, and reptiles around her home.

June 20
Ecology of Manzanitas of the East Bay
With Bert Johnson
Bert is a manzanita enthusiast and expert and a retired member of the East Bay Regional Park District Botanic Garden staff.

July 11
Irrigation Efficiency
With Seth Wright
Seth is a Landscape Contractor specializing in Irrigation Efficiency and has been in the landscape industry for 20 years.

July 18           
Ecology of East Bay Redwoods
With Emily Burns
Emily is Director of Science at Save the Redwoods League.

August 1
The Poetry of Water
With Kirk Lumpkin, Host
Kirk, a poet, helped facilitate the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival (with Poetry Flash & former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass) and regularly hosts poetry readings.

August 15
Lose Your Lawn
With Bay Friendly Landscaping & Gardening Coalition Educator
The Bay-Friendly Landscaping & Gardening Coalition is a non-profit organization that works in partnership with public agencies, the landscape industry, and property owners to reduce waste and pollution, conserve natural resources, and create vibrant landscapes and gardens.



Watch for our August-November classes.
The new schedule will be published soon
Illustration/Photo Credits

©Glenn Keator

Photos related to "The White Mountains and the Kings of Age:  Bristlecone Pines"

©Debbie Ballentine



Coast redwood forest