Juniperus of the World

Juniperus scopulorum

Common Name: Rocky Mountain Juniper
Location: Cache National Forest, UT
Circumference: 247 inches
Height: 40 feet
Spread: 21 feet
Points: 292
Most Recent Measurement: 1945
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Ancient, gnarled and thriving, Jardine Juniper (J. scopulorum) boosts its status as a champion.
Salt Lake Tribune, October 16, 2006


Coming down the ridge in upper Logan Canyon, visitors begin to see hints that this gnarled specimen may be something special. This Rocky Mountain juniper - which experts remeasured last week - stands as one of six national champion trees that have taken root in Utah soil.

In this case, the ancient Jardine Juniper has actually grown out of the rock. A smattering of gray-green needles cling to life at the top of the otherwise barren tree. Even being mostly dead doesn't count against the 40-foot-tall tree.

"They do have to be alive to be counted as a champion," said Mike Kuhns, a Utah State University forestry researcher. American Forests, the nonprofit conservation group that maintains the list of national champions, asks for periodic remeasurements to aption').style.heigassure that winning trees are still intact.

As long as a single needle survives on a single branch, the tree meets the clinical definition of being alive. Somewhere in the tangle of deadwood, interior plumbing continues to pump water toward the surviving needles.

Researchers are unsure exactly how old the Jardine Juniper is, though a fading wooden sign touts the tree as being more than 3,200 years old. Kuhns said a more realistic estimate places the juniper closer to 2,000 years old.  But to be a national champion tree, age doesn't matter. It's all about size.


"You ready to measure the circumference?" Kuhns asked Meridith Perkins, a Utah Department of Natural Resources employee who is in charge of the state's Big Tree program.

"Yeah, I even brought the official sheet," Perkins replied.

The cliff-side location made it a challenge to measure the bulky juniper. Kuhns guided his yellow measuring tape around the tree, and tossed the end down to a third participant, Maggie Shao, who is with Utah State Extension in Salt Lake County. With a little work, Shao managed to get the line back up to Kuhns to complete the loop - 23 feet, 8 inches.

While height is important, experts score trees on three measurements. One point is given for every inch of circumference and for each foot of height. For every foot of crown spread, which measures how far the branches reach out, a tree gets a quarter of a point.

Despite inching closer to death, the Jardine Juniper managed to improve on its statistics, packing on some inches around the middle. The trunk circumference went from 247 inches in 1945 to 284 inches last week. That helped bump its score from 292 to 331.

Kuhns has visited the Jardine Juniper four times in 12 years, with each trek requiring a 10-mile round-trip hike. Aside from declining foliage, the tree looks much the same to him.

"It changes," he said, "but it changes in increments we cannot relate to."   It was Perkins' first glimpse of what is believed to be among the state's oldest trees. "It looks a lot bigger once you get up close and personal with it," she said. "It's definitely earned its reputation."


Over centuries of life, the tree has grown twisted. Some of the barren branches resemble skeleton fingers reaching toward the sky. Some of those slender branches are signs that more of the tree was recently alive. "It's a tree suited to grow in a dry environment, like [on] a rock," Kuhns said.

That chunk of rock is part of what has allowed this tree to outlive many of its fellow junipers.

The rock almost serves as an island, a place where no other trees could take root. This isolation allowed the hardy tree to survive the ancient forest fires that swept through Logan Canyon.

The Jardine Juniper, discovered in 1923, was named after USU alumnus and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture William Jardine, according to the book Utah, a Guide to the State.

With a little luck, the elderly tree could hold on to its crown as national champion for a few more decades.


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