2/27/2012

Pioneers of The Coastal Forest: Shore Pine

Tenacious Shore pine in Roche Cove Regional Park, Sooke, BC
(can you spot the Kingfisher on the tree?)
The sun-loving Shore pine Pinus contorta var. contorta is one of the smaller members of the coastal rain forest tree community, but it is one of the most important. 10,000 years ago as the last glaciers receded, it was the varieties of Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) that were the first trees to move in. Shore pine pioneered the coastal forest.

The pines are successful pioneer trees because they are able to live in extreme habitats that are unfavorable to other potentially competitive species.

On infertile soils, Lodgepole pine is often the only tree species that will grow. Scraggly, stunted stands can survive on bare gravel, while adventurous individuals can even scrape by on a rock.

Shore pine is one of four varieties of the species Lodgepole pine. Lodgepole pine has the widest range of environmental tolerance of any conifer in North America. Inland varieties of Lodgepole pine are found from 490 to 3660 m (1,600 to 12,000 ft), while the Shore pine is found from ocean-side up to the sub-alpine zone at 610 m/2,000 ft.

Under ideal conditions Shore pine reach 6-15 m (20-50 ft) in height, while their twisted trunks can measure up to 15-50 cm (6-20 in) in diameter. What it lacks in size, it makes up in tenacity and character.

Lone pine has nice view
Shore pine's range is in a narrow band along the coast, where it toughs out gale force winds with Western hemlock and Sitka spruce. Like the Sitka spruce, Shore pine can survive the strong, salt-laden spray blowing off the ocean. Shore pine is also a major component of coastal boggy areas.

Shore pine is a two-needled tree with inch-thick, deeply grooved, dark reddish-brown bark. Small trees can still be old, with their age shown in the fractured bark and gnarly bonsai appearance. In extreme cases 70-year-old trees can be only 1.2 m (4 ft) in height or less, and as small as 2.5 cm (1 in) or smaller in diameter.

In mixed stands, Shore pine may form scrubby thickets or sparse to dense groves of twisted, contorted trees. Sometimes they go it alone, toughing it out on a rock in scenic oceanfront locations. Due to their challenging locations, Shore pine are not long-lived trees like some of their relatives, managing only a century at best.

The Shore pine's heritage makes it uniquely suited for tough jobs, like breaking a rock down, or being the first tree to move in to a new location. From foggy oceanfront to high in the clouds on rocky peaks at almost 4000 m (12,000 ft), the varieties of Lodgepole pine are certifiably tough trees.

The Shore pine were pioneers, preparing the way for the coastal forest's giant species that followed in their root steps.

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