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The Hurungna Oak
Third Oldest Organism on Earth

Clump of Quercus Palmeri, Palmer's Oak, 1931

Clump of Palmer's Oak (Quercus palmeri), photographed in 1931, representing the same type of tree as the Hurungna Oak.
Image from Wieslander Vegetation Type Mapping Collection, courtesy of Marian Koshland Bioscience & Natural Resources Library, Univ. of California, Berkeley.

A news conference regarding the Hurungna Oak is reported to be scheduled for Saturday, May 25, 2019, 11:00 am, in Fontana at the Mary Vagle Nature Center, located at 11501 Cypress Avenue East. Any updates will be reported here.

The Los Angeles Almanac has never before featured a subject outside the boundaries of Los Angeles County, however, because this concerns one of our own local Native American tribal groups and the subject is an extraordinary ancient living organism in our Southern California neighborhood, we thought to make this exception.

The Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians-Kizh Nation is seeking protection for an ancient oak tree in the Jurupa Mountains of Riverside County that is endangered by housing development. Called the Hurungna Oak by the Kizh (named for a Gabrieleño/Kizh village that once was located nearby), the tree is considered not only sacred in California native culture, but also extraordinary due to its age. The tree has been scientifically determined to be at least 13,000 years old, making it not only the oldest known living organism in California and second oldest known in North America, but, the third oldest known living organism on earth.

The Hurungna Oak is a Palmer’s Oak (Querus Palmeri), a variety normally found in more mountainous, cooler and wetter locations than found in the northwest corner of Riverside County. After conducting a study of the tree, a team of botanists from the University of California, Davis and University of California, Riverside, published their findings in a 2009 article in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, concluding that the tree sprouted from a single acorn in excess of 13,000 years ago. At the time of this tree’s beginning, Ice Age animals, such as the woolly mammoth, mastodon, saber-toothed cat, and giant bear were dying out and humans were just beginning to domesticate animals.

The Hurungna Oak is located in the easternmost borderlands of historic Kizh tribal territory. As do all original native peoples in California, the Kizh celebrate oak trees as culturally significant and sacred, calling the tree the “staff of life.” Meal ground from oak acorns was vital in the native diet and feasts were held to celebrate oak trees. Kizh descendants believe that their ancestors would have long revered and celebrated the ancient Hurungna Oak. In 2018, the tribe applied for recognition of the Hurungna Oak as a sacred site with the California Native American Heritage Commission.

Today, the region around the Hurungna Oak is experiencing rapid growth and the undeveloped land upon which the tree lives now faces adjacent residential and commercial development. Any nearby construction poses a high risk of killing this ancient witness that has survived for 13 millennia to be one of the oldest living things on our planet.

The Kizh people hope to draw the interest of the public and that of public officials to support the protection and preservation of the ancient Hurungna Oak, a tree that should be sacred to all of us. Until it can be protected, its specific location is not revealed so as to try to prevent the risk of vandalism and souvenir hunters.

We will post updates regarding the status of the Hurungna Oak here. We encourage you to help to call for protection of the Hurunga Oak in Riverside County by contacting California Governor Gavin Newsom by email or by telephone at (916) 445-2841 (or fax at 916-558-3160) or by writing him at:

Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Leaves of Quercus Palmeri, Palmer's Oak

Leaves of a Palmer's Oak (Quercus palmeri). Image courtesy of Tentaculatta, via Wikimedia Commons.