SANTA LUCIA FIR, BRISTLECONE FIR
This photo, near the top of Cone Peak in the Ventana Wilderness, was taken in 2006 atop a rock where I was able to get fairly close to the cones.
Santa Lucia fir (also called bristlecone fir), occurs only in a few, small locations in the Santa Lucia Range near the central California coast. It can reach 100 feet or more in height, and usually occurs singly or in small groups on relatively rugged terrain between 2,000 and 5,000 feet. Bristlecone fir may associate with several oaks, ponderosa, Coulter, and sugar pines, madrone, Douglas-fir, and incense-cedar. Rainfall at some locations may reach 100 inches.
Unique cones have bracts that can extend out from the cone for two inches. Like all firs, cones grow upright, at the top of the tree.
These Santa Lucia firs, growing at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden near Berkeley, CA, show the exceedingly narrow spires characteristic of the species.
Historical tidbit: This group of trees originated from seeds collected in 1938 from firs at Cone Peak. The trees were grown in pots for nine years, and planted in the Garden in 1947. The Marble Cone fire of 1977 killed many firs in the Santa Lucia Mountains, and foresters were able to collect seeds from the firs in the Botanic Garden. I hope to follow up on where those seeds have been planted, and the rate of success.
An excellent article about the aftermath of the Marble Cone fire is located here (pages 8–14).
Needles and buds are atypical of firs. Needles are sharp-pointed, and large, up to two inches. Buds are conspicuously long and pointed. These unusual characteristics, along with the long cone bracts, have led to speculation that Santa Lucia fir might be put into its own genus.