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Desert Diary
Plants/King Clone Creosotebush


If King Clone, near Old Woman Springs, California, in the Mojave Desert, could talk, he could claim to be older than even Bristlecone Pines, at an estimated age between 9,400 to 12,000 years.

Shaped like an oval ring, King Clone ranges from 50 to 72 feet in diameter. And all of this is from a single seed? You see, when a creosotebush sprouts, it grows vertically until it reaches a few centimeters in height, then lateral branches develop, shooting up diagonally. From the root crown, additional basal shoots sprout at the periphery of the plant. Eventually the original stem dies, slowly disintegrates, and leaves a bare spot in the center of the clump. The satellite shoots put down their own roots in a ring around the original crown.

Scientists think the Creosotebush meandered across the Sonoran Desert and spilled into the northern Chihuahuan Desert about 4500 years ago. Long lived and commanding attention—is it possible that one of the bushes you see in our desert is the beginning of a dynasty—a King Clone of the Chihuahuan Desert?
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Florence E. Schwein, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio, University of Texas at El Paso.



A clone usually is defined as having been derived from a single individual and possessing the exact same genetic makeup as that individual. In many cases among plants, physical connection persists between individual shrubs, trees, or whatever, making it easy to consider them as a single organism. If connections becomes broken, as in King Clone, then it is a matter of interpretation as to whether we are dealing with separate plants or a single, fragmented individual.

King Clone's claim to be the oldest may not hold up. A single shrub known as King's Holly is the only known specimen of Lomatia tasmanica. This shrub ranges across almost a mile on a remote mountainside in Southwest Tasmania. The growth is a single clone; the age estimate is based on genetically identical fossil leaf fragments. Carbon-14 dating indicates an age of about 43,600 years B.P. (Before Present).



Lynch, A. J. J., R. W. Barnes, J. Cambecèdes, and R. E. Vaillancourt. 1998. Genetic evidence that Lomatia tasmanica (Proteaceae) is an ancient clone. Australian Journal of Botany, 46:25-33.

Nabhan, G. P. 1985. Gathering the Desert. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 209 pp.

Tweit, S. J. 1998. Seasons in the Desert: A Naturalist's Notebook. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 224 pp.