Up In Smoke: Why Lodgepole Pines Love A Good Forest Fire

Lodgepole pine forest

Lodgepole pine forest

If you’re a homeowner, there’s nothing good about forest fires. But it may come as a surprise to learn that for some species, they’re essential. And one of them is the flagpole-shaped tree known as the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine.

THE SKINNY ON LODGEPOLE PINES

If you’re a skier, you’re probably already familiar with the lodgepole pine. The tall, slender tree often serves as a repository for underwear tossed from the ski lifts. A common sight at higher elevations, the pines pierce the slopes like pencils, while towering over other plants in the landscape.

According to the USDA Forest Service, the lodgepole pine is one of the most widely distributed tree species in western North America. The Rocky Mountain variety, Pinus contorta latifolia, grows in northwest Canada, the Black Hills of South Dakota and as far south as Colorado, central Utah and eastern Oregon.

Distribution map for Rocky Mountain Lodgepole pines

Distribution map of the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine

One look up the mountain and you can’t miss them blanketing the slopes in pure, dense stands. Lodgepole pines don’t leave much room for other species. In fact, their slender, reddish brown trunks are packed so tightly together that their lower branches self-prune as they grow. As a result, they tend to develop thin, narrow crowns of stiff, yellow-green needles.

lodgepole pine forest

Still, despite their impressive heights of 150′ or more, lodgepole pines seldom attain large diameters. In Utah, for example, some 50′ trees have diameters that measure just around 5 inches. Typically, lodgepole diameters rarely reach more than 16 inches. Yet most trees enjoy a lifespan of 150 to 200 years, with some living for over 400.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CONES

So why do lodgepole pines like fire? It’s all about reproduction. As the name implies, all conifers reproduce from seeds that are housed in their cones. In the case of Rocky Mountain lodgepoles, the seeds are located in cones on the uppermost branches. The cones can be closed (serotinous) or open (non-serotinous).

Closed cone/Photo credit: Oregon State University Dept. of Horticulture

Open cone/Photo credit: Oregon State University Dept. of Horticulture

Moreover, depending on what has occurred in nature over time, the type of cone may shift from one to the other.

ALL FIRED UP OVER SEROTINOUS CONES

Most lodgepole forests in North America were established because of fire, in particular in the Rocky Mountains. As a result, in areas prone to fires, lodgepole pines typically bear serotinous cones.

Why? Because serotinous cones are covered with a resin seal that must be melted to open. Forest fires provide the high temperatures the cones need, triggering them to open and release their seeds. 

HOW FIRE CREATES LODGEPOLE FORESTS

Lodgepole pines are generally known as prolific seed producers. In fact, some lodgepole pines can produce up to 9,000 cones in a single growing season. As a result, the thin-barked tree’s susceptibility to fire enables it to release vast amounts of seeds. 

That being said, the trees may have to wait a long time for a fire, leading to a large accumulation of seeds. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for multiple years’ worth of cones to build up on a tree. Luckily for the species, though, the average serotinous cone can remain on the tree for about 15 years, with some lasting for more than 30.

Rocky Mountain National Park

In addition to unsealing its cones, fire creates the perfect soil for lodgepole seedlings. Soils left behind by fire are rich in minerals and organic matter and the winged seeds settle easily into these freshly-prepared beds. As a result, lodgepole pines can develop huge stands with great density. 

New lodgepole pines establishing after fire

And with each new forest fire, the stands regenerate new stands and the cycle continues.

DID YOU KNOW?

The name ‘lodgepole’ refers to the use of the wood in teepees and lodges by native American people. Today, the tree is still a highly desirable source of timbers for rail fences, barns structures and log cabins.

Fence made from lodgepole timbers

 

 

Father’s Day 2019: Lessons Learned From A Life In The Garden

Me, my dad and my sister circa 1965

Dad was up early when I was a child. On weekdays he went to the office, but on weekends the real business began. These were the days that dad devoted to yard work. And my sister and I were a key part of his crew. Continue reading

Why Carnations Are The Official Mother’s Day Flower

This is one of my favorite all-time stories. And even better, it’s true. It’s the tale of a mother and daughter, 500 white carnations and the founding of Mother’s Day. Continue reading

Nature’s Flu Remedy: Antiviral Anti-inflammatory Lemon

Now that flu season has begun, most of us are looking for ways to stay healthy. For some, this means getting the flu shot, for others it means restocking their arsenal of home remedies. For many, it means a combination of both. However, sometimes it doesn’t take more than opening your refrigerator to uncover one of the best flu fighters of all. That’s the humble lemon. Continue reading

Fall Is Back: It’s Time To Get Out And Smell The Leaves

Fall arrives slowly here in Maryland. Just when you think the temperatures have cooled, they shoot up again along with the State’s oppressive humidity. Finally, though, there comes a morning when the air has turned crisp and the colors more vivid. That’s when I throw on a jacket and go outdoors to smell the leaves. Continue reading

Gardening For The Soul: Ten Steps To A Happy Life

View from atop the Bavarian Alps

Spring is a good time to start fresh and focus on what’s really important in life. For me, the month of April is a time of introspection. I make a mental list of what parts of my life need to be reorganized, adjusted or just plain thrown out.  Then I replenish my house with a happy mind. Continue reading

Valentines Day 2018: How To Really Say It With Flowers

This winter, I’ve been passing the time rereading a few French classics. It’s been a great way to while away the hours, especially since many of the books focus on life in the garden. Such is the case with Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novel, Le Lys dans la Vallée (The Lily of the Valley). It’s a great story of French love and society and how a pair of frustrated lovers establish a secret correspondence by flowers. Continue reading

Falling For Wilson Bentley, The Original Snowflake Man

Photos of snowflakes by Wilson Bentley

Wilson Bentley Digital Archives of the Jericho Historical Society/snowflakebentley.com   

‘No two snowflakes are alike’ is a saying that many of us have grown up hearing. But few of us are aware of the man who coined it, a farmer from a small rural town in Vermont by the name of Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931). Bentley was the first person to photograph a single snowflake, thus opening a window into this astonishing world of unique crystalline sculptures. Continue reading

All’s Fair At Macy’s 44th Annual Spring Flower Show

Revolving carousel at Macy’s Spring Flower Show

New York City’s Macy’s Day Parade is an American fall tradition with its festive floats, high school marching bands and trademark balloons. But until this weekend, I had never heard of another spectacular show sponsored each spring by the 100-year-old department store. That is, the Macy’s Flower Show; a show so big that it transforms an entire floor of the giant Herald Square building into a veritable garden extravaganza. Continue reading

Out and About In Cool and Captivating Lima, Peru

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Lima is perhaps best known as a stopover on the way to more exotic destinations like Cuzco and Machu Picchu. But, recently I found myself staying for an extended period of time in the sprawling coastal city. So instead of sticking to the typical tourist plan, I decided to truly explore some of the city’s more remarkable districts. What I discovered was a dynamic tapestry of people, architecture, customs and cuisine; an intoxicating blend that makes visiting this capital city something really special.

By all standards, Lima is a very large city. Covering approximately 310 square miles, it is home to over 10 million people, or roughly one-third of the country’s entire population. The city perches high atop gargantuan green cliffs at the base of which runs a road known as the Costa Verde. Miles of two-story homes interspersed with modern mid-rise buildings, boisterous local markets and quaint city parks fan out along the coastline. Overhead, paragliders loop through the air on the strong ocean breeze, occasionally drifting perilously close to the hotels that dot the busy shore.

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One wonders how the city stays put atop the steep cliffs, which appear to be formed mostly of sand and in many places are secured only by netting. Lapping at their feet are long lines of horizontal waves, which break on the rocky shore and retreat with a noisy rumble, sweeping mounds of smooth, shiny pebbles back out to sea. Near the popular Rosa Nautica restaurant and pier, surfers ride the waves from sun-up to sundown, prudently abandoning their boards just moments before they collide with the rocky beach.

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Currently billed as the third largest city in Latin America, Lima was founded in 1535 by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who laid out the original boundaries for what he envisioned to become a “City of Kings.” At the time, there were roughly 200,000 indigenous people in the area. The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire was one of the most important campaigns in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The Spanish ruled Peru for over 300 years, renaming the region the Viceroyalty of Peru.

In addition to suffering under occupation for centuries, Lima has endured many earthquakes (earthquake warning signs abound) and following liberation, bouts of guerrilla warfare as recently as the 1980s. A stroll through just a tiny fraction of the city’s many neighborhoods is a trip through history itself as one area morphs into another yielding up contrasting architecture and cultures characteristic of each of Lima’s distinct time periods. Worn stone sidewalks, polished smooth by centuries of use, crisscross the city, affording a constantly changing vista.

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Officially, the province of Lima is divided into 43 districts. The various coastal districts, though, are generally frequented most by tourists and their population increases with summer months. Here are some suggestions for what to see and do in some of these more popular areas.

Central Lima

As its name suggests, Central Lima is the heart of the historical Lima city. And the main plaza, called Plaza Mayor, is the core of the the 16th century city established by Pizarro. At the north end of the plaza sits the massive Palacio de Gobierno, first erected in 1535 by Pizarro and today the official residence of the President of Peru. The grandiose baroque style building has undergone many transformations over the years and now occupies an entire city block.

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To the east of the Plaza is the Archbishops Palace, a Baroque-style stone edifice with ornate cedar balconies. It is joined to the Cathedral of Lima, which houses Pizarro’s remains.

lima pizarro tomb

A short walk away is the beautiful Plaza San Martin, named for José de San Martin, an Argentinian general who led South America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire. Known as the ‘Liberator of Peru,’ he is depicted sitting astride a horse in the center of the park. Underneath, is a bronze rendering of Madre Patria, the symbolic mother of Peru.

lima statue

Also located on the square is the magnificent Gran Hotel Bolivar, built in 1924 and at the time considered one of the most luxurious accommodations in Latin America. In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel was a favorite among many movie stars, including Clark Gable, Orson Welles and John Wayne. Edward II, Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon were also guests. The Gran Hotel Bolivar is known as the place that catapulted the local cocktail, the Pisco Sour, into the international spotlight.

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Now considered the national drink of both Peru and Chile, the Pisco Sour was allegedly invented by an American bartender in the 1920s.  It is composed of pisco, a high-proof spirit made from distilled grape wine, as well as sour citrus juice and other sweetener components. In Peru, bartenders usually add key lime juice, syrup, egg white, ice and Angostura bitters to the mix.

Peruvians love to offer Pisco Sours to guests and we drank them pretty much everywhere we went.

 

 

Mireflores

Miraflores was established by the Spanish in the 16th century and was later the scene of the Battle of Miraflores in the late 1800s (during the War of the Pacific) when it was sacked and burned by Chilean invaders. Today, it is where most of the luxury hotels and apartment buildings are based. Upscale shopping locations include the multi-tiered mall called Larcomar and its cliff-side bars and restaurants. Behind the high-rise hotels, we discovered quiet, tree lined streets and stopped to peek through the gates at the many beautiful stone mansions, their graceful architecture just visible above high walls draped with crimson bougainvillea and other colorful flowers.

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Huaca Pucllana, an important historical site and one of the last remaining pre-Inca ruins in the city, is located in the heart of Miraflores. The word Huaca means tomb, and the site is exactly that; a multi-tiered ceremonial center composed of mounds of hand-formed adobe bricks. Restored portions of the tomb blend seamlessly with the original structure first created by the Limas people back in AD 400. A stunning open-air restaurant of the same name faces onto the ruins, which are beautifully illuminated at night.

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Another Miraflores attraction, Lovers Park (Parque del Amor) is located on the the top of the cliffs. Its focal point is a clay statue entitled “The Kiss” (El Beso), which is surrounded by curving walls of colorful mosaics.

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San Isidro

San Isidro is an upscale district of the city that in recent years has become a major financial quarter. For tourists, the principal attraction is the Museo Larco, a former 18th century Viceroy’s house which has been converted into a museum housing an outstanding display of pre-Columbian Art. Founded by Rafael Larco Hole in 1926, the museum’s chronological galleries showcase over 4,000 years of Peruvian pottery. They also house the largest collection of jewelry used by many notable rulers of pre-Columbian Peru including crowns, earrings, and other ornaments finely wrought in gold and decorated with semi-precious stones. A separate gallery features a large collection of pre-Columbian erotic pots.

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One of the best cafes in the city, the Cafe de Museo, serves fresh Peruvian food on a cool porch amid trailing ferns and cascading bougainvillea.

Lima garden

 

Also located in San Isidro is one of the hottest restaurants in Lima, Malabar. When our car pulled up, a hostess opened a large door in an otherwise nondescript wall to usher us in to a sleek and glamorous space. Malabar is run by culinary star Pedro Mighel Schiaffini who concocts unusual blends of Peruvian food, using local Amazonian produce that changes daily. We sampled many dishes that introduced entirely new tastes to our palates, including wild-caught fish, weird roots, unfamiliar mollusks and sauces made from exotic fruits. The dinner was complemented by a round of specialty cocktails (created by Schiaffini’s dad) served in vintage glasses.

Barranco

At the turn of the the 20th century, Barranco was known as an upper class resort community lined with old mansions. Today it is a boisterous area with brightly-painted houses, unusual tropical plants and acres of colorful flowers, including large beds of fragrant roses.

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A block west of the main plaza is the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), a narrow wooden bridge that traverses an old stone stairway. We crossed the bridge and took the stairway down to the beach shoulder-to-shoulder with the local weekend crowds sporting umbrellas and towels and an infectious happy mood. Along the way we passed crowded eateries, the smoky smell of pork chorizos rising up into the later afternoon air. Sidewalk vendors sold spiral cone ice cream, frozen fruit popsicles and tiny baked treats from little pop-up stands erected along the steps.

One night we dined at the trendy outdoor restaurant, Amor Amar whose tagline reads roughly “There is no better love than the love of food.” Discretely located on a sidestreet in Barranco, the understated courtyard space features full scale trees, ivy-cloaked walls and hundreds of twinkling lights. The menu is heavy on seafood, including charela, a sea bass from the north of Peru. We also sampled delicious Peruvian dishes made with local duck, slow roasted lamb and suckling goat. The house-made ice creams and delicious desserts made of local, fresh ingredients were a perfect end to a fabulous meal.

Getting Around

We were warned in advance to be careful about taxis, many of which are not taxis at all, but scammers who will literally take you for a ride. The few instances we resorted to cabs, we made sure to negotiate a price up front. For most all of our travel, we used Uber, which provided us with a quick and easy way to get around all parts of the city.

Weather

The temperature in Lima fluctuates little from summer to winter. Expect low 60s to upper 70s December-March and low 60s to upper 60s/low 70s July-September. In January, we enjoyed days ranging around 75 degrees. Although mornings often start with a grayish cloud cover, by early afternoon it is almost always sunny. It rarely rains in Lima.

There is a stiff breeze along the coast, which can feel chilly in the mornings and evenings. In the city proper, however, the sun is strong and there is little breeze. Best to come prepared with a hat and lots of sunscreen.

For further information on Lima, what to see and do, go to peru.travel.