FYI: One of the Oldest Trees on Earth Is in Northern California

Redwoods and giant sequoias get a lot of hype in NorCal — but western junipers sure are worth shaking a stick at.

Giant sequoias are unequivocally magnetic and massive. It’s estimated more than 1 million people take in the sights and experiences of the giant sequoia groves each year. However, just as magnificent and old as them is a massive juniper tree located near those very same groves.

In fact, the Bennett Juniper as it’s known — an example of the western juniper — is the largest juniper *in the entire world.* It’s also one of the oldest known trees left standing on our mortal coil.

Standing over 86 feet tall and nearly 40 feet in diameter, the Bennett Juniper has been mangled by both time and the elements, sitting gnarled and rooted within the Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County, bordering on the western edge of Yosemite National Park.

Save The Redwoods League, an SF-based nonprofit focused on redwoods land stewardship and conservation, recently entrusted the Bennet Juniper, as well as the three acres of land that surrounds it, to Mother Lode Land Trust (MLLT). Because MLLT is more locally organized and managed, the trade in stewardship guarantees more close-knit oversight and enduring protection of the tree. 

“When Save the Redwoods League protects a forest, often, that’s just the beginning of the story, not the end,” said Anthony Castaños, land stewardship manager for Save the Redwoods League. “After more than 30 years of stewarding the Bennett Juniper property, we’re pleased to convey this remarkable place to Mother Lode Land Trust. The organization has the capacity and local ties to ensure its future most readily.”

To put the Bennett Juniper tree’s size into perspective, even the tallest of “normal” western juniper trees rarely exceed 70 feet; the Bennett Juniper handily eclipses this by 16 feet… or about the length of a Toyota Camry.

Moreover: The Bennett Juniper is believed to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old, with some believing it’s even older. In 1989, Peter Brown from the University of Arizona Tree Ring Lab estimated that the tree was approximately 3,000 years old; however, Brown also discovered decayed wood and a hollow section about 2 feet into the core samples. 

Alas, given these voids in the tree rings, the exact age of the Bennett Juniper may never be known.

How did the tree get its human-like name, you ask? It was named after the acclaimed naturalist Clarence Bennett, who dedicated much of his academic career to studying western juniper trees from Oregon all the way down to Mexico. 

According to Save The Redwoods League, Ed Burgeson, a local sheep rancher, led Bennett to the large juniper tree in 1932 after hearing about his work with the large flora. What started as a casual stroll turned into the discovery of the largest juniper that Bennett had encountered — and that would later ever be known to science.

Finally, sometime in the 1950s the USDA Forest Service named the tree after Bennett and gave it certain legal protections that would safeguard it from deforestation and other logging practices.

As it turns out: The Bennett Juniper is v good, v-like-sized company. The property it is on that was recently entrusted to the MLLT also includes a pair of western junipers that look like they’re dancing. These trees are nicknames? Fred and Ginger… for their resemblance to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Nature is an incredible thing, isn’t it? And especially here in Northern California.

Feature image: Courtesy of Save The Redwoods League via Adam Kaplan

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