For perennial plants to live there, they must stay low, hide in cracks, and/or be very tough.
And for trees - surviving in these wind-whipped exposures is even harder.
But there are species adapted to the wind's sometimes relentless charms. Pines, spruce and cypress, for example. With the all-time world-wide wower being the Methuselah tree - one of the Great Basin Bristlecone Pines - and the oldest living organism on Earth.
But Jeffrey Pines, Pinus jeffreyi, and Single-leaf Pinyon Pines, Pinus monophylla, are also trees with such toughness. And both can be found to almost 10,000 feet above sea level, with lifespans of over 500 years. Some pinyons have even approached 1,000 years in age.
Jeffrey pine growing out of rim rocks on edge of 7,400-foot Mono Lake Basin plateau
Same tree at eye-level - check out that sideways trunk (and the view, too)
Also note the wind & cold denuded branches
The Germans coined a couple of terms for wind and cold stunted and shaped trees such as these - Krummholz and Knieholz - meaning "crooked wood" and "knee wood."
The Brits tried to translate this to "Elfin-wood," but it just doesn't capture the same image. It's a concept that definitely requires more hard consonants.
A big part of the reason these pines can survive such harsh conditions is an inherit propensity they have for their trunk and branches to both grow with a spiral grain twist, and to slowly grow even more twisted as torsion from wind stresses the asymmetrical shape.
Why twist? Think rope. Twisting creates strength and flexibility.
In death, the deep beauty and functionality of these wind-induced adaptations become fully exposed - like the cords and sinews of a weight-lifter's muscles at the moment of the jerk...
Pinyon pine snag on plateau top
With a wind-shaped Krummholz form
Note how the branches grow swept back away from the windward side
And the grains spiral and branches are twisting away from the wind as well
My knees sometimes feel like that after long hikes
Unfortunately, Krummholz trees aren't as easy to collect as Hummel figurines. But here's another one in pinyon pine, complete with cavity nest:
Another fine piece of wind-sculpted pinyon pine art
This post is for my friend and mentor Chris - a true lover of old snags, and a man definitely holding up well against life's headwinds.
- S. Skatter, B. Kucera, Norwegian Forest Research Institute - Spiral grain - An adaptation of trees to withstand stem breakage caused by wind-induced torsion
- Wikipedia - Krummholz
- Wikipedia - Hummel figurines
- Wikipedia - Single-leaf Pinyon Pine
- Wikipedia - Bristlecone Pines
- Wikipedia - Methuselah tree
- Camera Trap Codger - posts on snags
- Calfora.org - Pinus monophylla
- Jepson Online - Pinus monophylla
- Calflora - Pinus jeffreyi
- Jepson Online - Pinus jeffreyi
- Nature of a Man (this blog) - posts on the Mono Lake Basin