Krummholz, the crooked trees that are battered and stunted by harsh microclimates, exist at the upper edge of tree growth in mountains. Their name is derived from the German term for crooked or twisted wood. These krummholz, or elfin wood, suffer strong winds, low temperatures, intense radiation, and short growing seasons, and thus they become deformed. The geography of krummholz provides clues about microclimates, species’ distributions, water supplies, and climate change.

Most krummholz are evergreen trees, such as the Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii); however, occasionally, deciduous trees, such as the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), will have a stunted form. In some areas (e.g., the European Alps), the dwarfed and crooked krummholz forms are genetically induced. In other areas (e.g., North America), the krummholz forms are considered ...

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