OBJECT OF THE MONTH - August, 2005

Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva)- Holotype specimen

Great Basin bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva (holotype specimen), UCM-247988

A holotype is the primary specimen referred to when a new species is described and named. This is the holotype on which Dana K. Bailey based the description of the species Pinus longaeva.

Before Bailey began his work in the 1960s, it was generally accepted that bristlecone pines in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and those in the Great Basin in Utah, Nevada and western California were all the same species. Bailey's observations revealed distinct differences in trees of the two regions, including characteristics of needles, resin ducts, resin chemistry, growth form, and environmental characteristics such as soil type and water availability.
Pinus longaeva attains ages of 3,000 to 5,000 years. For this reason the species is used in dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) and paleoclimatology, and it has been used to calibrate the radiocarbon curve.
Want to name a new species? It would be important to study the holotypes of morphologically similar species. What has a tree high in the White Mountains of eastern California witnessed over 5,000 years? What secrets could it tell were it to talk?