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Pinus flexilis

Pinus flexilis (Limber Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Summer.
Lower Calico Trail, September 20, 2010.

Pinus flexilis grows to twenty-six meters tall (the Pinus flexilis shown at left is about sixteen meters tall) and two meters in diameter with a pyramidal crown that often becomes rounded with age.  Pinus flexilis retains many lower limbs, in contrast to Pinus ponderosa. Trees commonly are many centuries old and are known to live over ten centuries.

According to the United States Forest Service,

"Limber Pine grows across a wider range of elevations than any other tree species in the central Rocky Mountains, inhabiting some of the driest sites capable of supporting trees. In many high-elevation sites it occupies or forms the upper treeline, but in northern parts of its range it is found at low elevations along plains grassland edges. It typically occurs on steep, rocky, well-drained, windswept, and nutrient-poor sites on exposed ridges and summits. Limber Pine is often reported growing on calcareous soils. It is also reported on soils derived from many other types of parent material." 

Pinus flexilis is seldomly common but it often, as pictured here, stands out in its favored habitat of rocky, exposed areas.

Notice that branches range from horizontal, to ascending, to descending. 

Edwin James was the first to collect Pinus flexilis for science (probably on the 1819-1820 Long Expedition), but no type specimen is known to exist.  James named and described the plant in 1823.

Pinus flexilis

Pinus flexilis

Pinus flexilis (Limber Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Summer.
Lower Calico Trail, June 12, 2015 and October 3, 2014.

The bark of young trees is light gray and nearly smooth, but in older trees, such as the one meter thick tree shown at bottom left, the bark is dark and scaled.

Needles are in bundles of five (Ponderosa needles are in bundles of three), they are three-to-seven centimeters long, flexible, dark green, and persist for about five or six years.

Thin branches up to a foot or two long are very flexible and can actually be tied in a knot.

Pinus flexilis

Pinus flexilis

Pinus flexilis (Limber Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Summer.
Lower Calico Trail, September 20, 2010 and August 26, 2011.

Cones commonly range from seven-to-fifteen centimeters long but may be twenty centimeters.  The cone at lower left is ten centimeters long. 

Cones ripen in two years and disperse their seeds in September and October.  Various rodents and birds, especially Clark's Nutcrackers, disseminate the seeds.  Some studies show that Clark's Nutcrackers may bury thousands of Pinus flexilis seeds per acre.

Pinus flexilis

Pinus flexilis (Limber Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Summer.
Lower Calico Trail, June 12, 2015.

As the USFS indicates,  Pinus flexilis "typically occurs on steep, rocky, well-drained, windswept, and nutrient-poor sites on exposed ridges".

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Pinus flexilis

Range map for Pinus flexilis