Whitebark pine

Yoho National Park

Quick facts

Height 5­-20 meters
Cones egg-shaped
Needles in clumps of 5
Lifespan up to 1000 years
Status: Endangered

whitebark pine cone

The whitebark pine produces some of the most nutritious seeds in the Canadian Rockies. Packed full of protein and fat, these pea-sized seeds are eaten by bears, squirrels and birds.

High on a mountain slope, a whitebark pine stands its ground against the elements – strong winds, snow and cold. This tree is tough.

Whitebark pine grows in subalpine areas of Yoho National Park where it is an important keystone species. It provides habitat for other animals, stabilizes slopes and holds onto the snow pack, making water available to other plants.

Whitebark pine cones need help to open and release their seeds. The Clark’s nutcracker provides that help. It uses its sharp pointy beak to pluck the seeds out of the cones, eats them and then stores the leftovers in the ground for later. The seeds it forgets to collect grow into new trees.

As tough as this tree is, it is declining throughout its range. White pine blister rust, fire suppression and mountain pine beetle are threatening its survival.

Where to see whitebark pine

Hike up the Paget Lookout Trail to the edge of treeline and look for scattered pines with needles in clumps of five. If you are there in the fall, watch and listen for Clark’s nutcrackers collecting seeds. 

Why whitebark pine is at risk

Whitebark pine is declining throughout its range, due to:

  • White pine blister rust: This introduced fungus arrived in shipment of white pine seedlings from Europe in 1906. Less than 1% of North American trees are rust-resistant.
  • Fire suppression: Fire creates open spaces for the sun-loving whitebark pine. Without fire, whitebarks are shaded out by subalpine fir and spruce.
  • Mountain pine beetle: The beetle is spreading upslope due to climate warming and attacking whitebark pine.

What we are doing

Parks Canada is helping to recover whitebark pine (and limber pine, a related species) by:

  • Creating a rust-resistant forest. Seeds are collected from the trees that are naturally resistant to white pine blister rust. They are sprouted in a nursery and planted back into the park.
  • Using prescribed fire to clear spaces for whitebark pine.
  • Putting pheromone bait traps on trees to deter mountain pine beetles. These chemicals signal that the tree is already full of beetles.

Planting the Future: Saving whitebark and limber pine

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