Krummholz is the German name that naturalists use for the form of trees that is so contorted by wind, snow and ice that they no longer form an upright tree but rather a matt or bush of foliage. They normally occur at very high elevation or other inhospitable locations where the wind is constant and the snow is common.
Whitebark Pine (P. albicaulis) in California is confined to the high Sierra Nevada with scattered populations in parts of the Cascade range. They occur mainly above 8,000 feet elevation. On my recent backpacking trip to the central Sierra I was back in my familiar hunting grounds mostly looking for more fantastic Sierra Juniper, but I was surprised to find instead some high ridges covered in Mountain Hemlock and Whitebark Pine. While the Hemlocks have nice foliage, they do not contort, at least in this area, the way that juniper and pine do; instead forming lush looking bush forms or flag and matt forms. While it was an enjoyable experience to see the hemlock, it was more interesting to get to see many examples of windswept whitebark pine. I was even lucky enough to see a Clark’s nutcracker flitting about.
Some of the forms are more dramatic than others; while some of the trees manage to grow upright, others simply look like a bush. A few are full of deadwood and twists and interplaying with the granite where they are growing.
The most impressive tree that I saw on the trip was a contorted mass of twists and turns