Sitting about 160-miles southeast of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada mountains is a tree so old, it was likely sprouting while the Egyptians were building the pyramids.
The Bennett Juniper in the Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County is thought to be the oldest juniper tree in the United States. The tree is known to be over 3,000 years old, with some believing it could even be 6,000 years old.
Not only is Bennett the oldest juniper tree in America, it’s also the largest, sitting 78-feet-tall with an average crown spread of 56 feet. It sits in the Sardine Meadow at roughly 8,400 feet elevation, which is covered in snow most of the year. The tree doesn’t get a lot of visitors during the years since it’s on private property and protected by the Save the Redwoods League.
Although we know it’s the oldest juniper tree in the U.S., its age remains a debate. It was first cored in the 1930’s where it was estimated to be roughly 3,000-years-old. It was again cored in 1989 by Peter Brown of the University of Arizone, where he counted an age of nearly 3,000. But during Brown’s coring, he found that the tree suffered from rot on the inside and was hollow about 2-feet-deep on its trunk, so the exact age will never be known.
The tree is named after naturalist Clarence K. Bennett, who believed it to be 6,000-years-old based off core samples and cross sections of nearby trees. There is an 800-year-old tree just 200-feet from Bennett, and a 2,700-year-old tree, the Scofield Juniper, about 10-miles away.
Since a highway was built nearby in the 1950’s, there has been extensive work to keep it protected. It was first protected by the land’s owner under the Bennett Juniper Association, which placed a monument at the tree in 1963. It was eventually transferred to the Save the Redwoods League in 1987, which continues to hire a summer steward who camps near the tree to control visitation and report any potential dangers to the trees.
We know the three largest trees live in the Redwoods National Park. Along with Bennett Juniper, we think it’s safe to say that Northern California is a great ally to the trees.