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Art in Public Places

The Grappling Juniper

Tom Benedict
Mountain Wildwoods Exhibit, Gardens on Spring Creek


The grappling juniper as it grew is a perfect example of a natural bonsai tree. Its roots fed directly into cracks in the rock getting what little moisture they could. Half of the tree had died long ago and was weathered and grey. The other half had clung to life a while longer, and finally fell to the elements that had kept it stunted all along.  

I have not done a ring count on this tree, but my guess is that it is older than it appears. The rock dwelling junipers have the least to work with and therefore tend to be the oldest. If I had to guess, I would put this tree at over 500 years old. I found it in some bluffs high above the Missouri river. It's neat to me, to think about the changes that have happened around these old trees. If this one had eyes, it would have already been old when it would watch Lewis and Clark come up the river. And that's just one familiar example of the things a tree like this lived through.

Scientists called dendrochronologists study tree rings,  and can accurately attach years to rings for all the live and dead trees in a given area. The rings record historical events like fires that come through, or wet vs. dry years. Junipers can provide a record of natural events going back up to 3,000 years. 

Rocky mountain junipers are native to Colorado and in a lot of places quite abundant. I encourage anyone, while they’re out in nature, to take notice of the trees around them and think of what they’ve lived through. It really is quite humbling.