A rare species of disputed origin: Washoe Pine

Hello all,

On July 23rd, I set off with my siblings and grandparents for a day trip.  Our destination: the stands of Washoe Pine, a disputed species of pine related to Ponderosa and Jeffrey, located on Babbitt Peak.  On our way over, we detoured across Sierra Valley through a major migratory waterfowl area known as Marble Hot Springs.  On our way, we caught glimpses of White Faced Ibis, Sandhill Crane, and American Coo, as well as Burrowing Owls in a drier area near Dyson Lane’s junction with Highway 49.

From Marble Hot Springs, we went through Loyalton and up through Sierra Brooks, taking the Loyalton-Boca Road to the Babbitt Peak turnoff.  On our way through the small valley known as Jones Valley, we encountered a gigantic Jeffrey Pine snag in a grove of Quaking Aspen.  The monster was 121′ to a snapped top and 21’0″ CBH – a legitimate 6-footer!

Eventually, we entered an area with a definite flora and soil change.  The trees looked somewhat like Ponderosa Pines, but were also very similar to Jeffrey Pine.  We concluded that the trees were likely Washoe Pines.  Afterwards, we continued up to the lookout and had an enjoyable chat with the ranger stationed there, observing geographical features as far away as Mount Lassen.  You really get a damn good view from 8,760 feet above sea level.  A notable feature was Mount Rose 20 miles to the southeast, home to the type locality for Washoe Pine.

It was also interesting to observe the subalpine forest community around the lookout tower.  A thriving community of Western White Pine, Mountain Mahogany and possibly even the rare Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulus), mostly in krummholz form (krummholz is German for “bent wood”).

Then, it was time to go back downslope in search of a new record.  Several fruitless stops were made, before we reached a spot I had noticed on the way up.  I ran upslope to measure the tree.  Sadly it was not a record, but it was still one of the largest on record.  Measuring 15’6″ CBH and 143′ tall, it is not far from record status.

Later, we found out that a return trip would be in order, since we missed the stand of Washoe Pine that the Research Natural Area was established to protect by a few miles.  Who knows, the largest may really be up there…

Thanks for reading,

Duncan