Jietai Temple is located in Beijing's Western Hills, about 35 kilometers from the capital city. Jie Tai Si, or Temple of the Ordination Altar, gets its name from the famous marble ordination altar that was later built here during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty. The marble ordination altar is nearly 5 meters high, and is decorated with delicate carvings of Buddhist scriptures. The temple itself was originally built in CE 622 during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, though most of the present-day buildings date from the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty.
Surrounding the main hall are a number of courtyards containing rock formations and extremely old trees, mostly pine and cypress and a Japanese pagoda (Sophora japonica) – aka Chinese scholar-tree, which curiously enough is a member of the pea (Fabaceae) family – as well as 250-year-old lilac bush. The temple is in fact renowned for its ancient trees. It is said that the Chinese scholar-tree that grows in the temple yard, better known as "The Protector of Buddhism", is more than 1000 years old. Another of the temple's famous old trees is the "Nine Dragon Tree", a lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) so named because its nine branches twist skywards, suggesting flying dragons. Other old pine trees surrounding the temple have been given special names such as Sleeping Dragon ("Wo Long") Pine, Leisure ("Zi Zan") Pine, Embracing Pagoda ("Bao Ta") Pine, and Trembling ("Huo Dong") Pine, which, it is said, trembles all over if only a single of its branches is touched.