Juniper is a short to medium-height evergreen shrub, belonging to the genus Juniperus. There are about 60 to 70 varieties of juniper, most of them native to the wilder parts of Asia, Europe, and North America. Scientifically known as Juniperus communis, junipers have a wide range of excellent uses and benefits.
Commonly, people use juniper berry and Juniper berry oil to make medicine extracts. The natives of North America use juniper extracts to treat chronic conditions like tuberculosis, intestinal gas, bloating, heartburn, gastrointestinal infections, etc. In some cases, juniper has helped in treating diabetes, cancer, and snakebites as well.
Some people also make topical use of juniper as they apply it directly to their skin wounds, in case of muscular or joint pain. The essential oil of juniper is inhaled to ease body pain and cure illnesses like bronchitis. The question is how does juniper really work? Multiple scientific studies show that juniper berries and oil consist of chemicals that alleviate gas and inflammation. These chemicals are also effective in eliminating viruses and bacteria. All of this helps in fighting off possible signs and symptoms of severe health symptoms.
Beyond medicinal application, juniper berries are used as a type of food or beverage flavoring. The berries are also used as a seasoning for pickling pork or meat. In the manufacturing industry, juniper oil helps add fragrance in soaps, perfumes, bath oils, bubble bath products, hair conditioners, shampoos, and cosmetics (lipsticks, foundation eye shadow, etc).
Junipers are the most versatile evergreen shrubs out there and it is worth knowing most of their varieties, if not all of them. That is why this article covers the most popular juniper shrubs and trees that you should know about.
Table of Contents
1. Alligator Juniper
Scientifically known as Juniperus deppeana, this variety of juniper is widely distributed in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. This unique variety of juniper is named for its most outstanding feature – the bark. The bark of this tree is marked with rough, squarely-shaped plates which resemble the skin of an alligator. The bark is thick with a furrowed pattern, setting it apart from other types of trees. Highly tolerant to heat, this tough-like-a-rock tree boasts intense bluish-green leaves which are a sight to behold. Alligator trees have the ability to strive and thrive in slightly acidic igneous soil and alkaline limestone.
For the perfect growth, the alligator juniper tree prefers dry hillsides such as the Guadalupe Mountains. A moderate level of elevation is also ideal for the growth of the alligator juniper as its varieties are found in high-leveled Trans-Pecos regions. It can grow happily in the company of oaks, pinons, ponderosas, etc.
According to the Science of Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating, alligator juniper trees have a slow growth rate. Research shows that this type of tree grows at a rate of 0.6 inches in diameters per decade. As the tree reaches the age of 170, the growth rate slows down to 0.4 inches. However, this berry-producing tree can live up to as long as 500 years!
The alligator juniper trees are the main attraction to plenty of bird species including woodpeckers, flycatchers, sparrows, Mexican jays, hummingbirds, etc.
2. California Juniper
Commonly known as desert white cedar, California juniper is distributed in Shasta County, California, south of the Baja California Norte. To be more specific, this type of juniper is found in the inner Coast Ranges of California, interiors of cismontane southern California, and the western slope of the southern Sierra Nevada. California Juniper is also found on desert slopes from the Colorado Desert to Joshua Tree National Park to Kern County, California. Some of these species can be spotted in abandoned areas of Arizona and Nevada.
Native to North America, California Juniper trees are conical in shape with evergreen foliage. While they are not as long-lasting as the alligator juniper, they can grow for 50 to 150 years or above. According to current research, this variety of juniper has a growth rate of up to 12 to 24 inches per year.
The most striking feature of California juniper trees is their bluish small cones. The fruiting takes place in the fall or the winter season. In its full-bloom, the tree boasts scale-like leaves in a light to medium green color. This drought-tolerant juniper tree needs moist to dry soil with highly acidic to highly alkaline soil PH.
3. Chinese Juniper
Alternatively known as Juniperus Chinensis, Chinese Juniper belongs to the botanic family of Cypress. This variety of juniper is vividly known for its varying size as it can be found in small to medium to large shrubs and trees. The largest growth size of a Chinese juniper tree is up to 50 feet in height while the largest Chinese juniper shrub does not grow more than 8 feet in height. On the other hand, the smallest Chinese juniper tree is known to be 10 feet tall while the shrub is as small as 3 feet and under.
This evergreen shrub requires full sun exposure, at least 6 hours of sunlight, for healthy growth. What else it needs is dry, moist, and well-drained soil. Like other juniper trees, Chinese junipers are also drought tolerant and salty soil tolerant. However, they are intolerant to poor drainage as it can destroy landscaping and cause pooling.
Native to Asia, Chinese juniper trees and shrubs feature an old ridged bark with two types of needles – adult and juvenile. Adult needles are short and convex-shaped while juvenile ones are awl-like in shape. These needles can be found in colors like green, grayish-green, or bluish-green.
4. Common Juniper
Also known as Siberian juniper or dwarf juniper, common juniper is one of the most common junipers in the world. Native to Chicago, Illinois, North America, this commonly-found variety is distributed in the dry hillsides and slopes. It can also be seen in moist coniferous/mixed forests, road/stream margins, clearings, etc.
Common juniper produces stiff, long, and pointy needles with a glossy lower surface. It has a broad base with a bluish-green upper surface. The needles boast small flowers, with yellow male blooms and yellowish-green female blooms. The flowering period ranges from May to June.
Common juniper tends to be a slightly poisonous shrub that grows up to 400 years! That said, its growth rate varies to a great extent; it can be a creepy dwarf shrub to a heavily crowned, pillar-like tree. In the north of Finland, densely-packed and low-growing common juniper dominates.
Owing to its low-maintenance features, this curvy needle-shaped tree is favored by men so that they can make the most of its economic uses. For example, the fragrant timber of common juniper is used for making utensils such as dishes. The berries are used for seasoning and making medicinal drugs, etc.
Highly tolerant to harsh winds and droughts, juniper shrubs prefer sunny locations with sandy to well-drained soil for growth. When well-maintained, the trees produce purplish berry-like cones. The birds gorge on these fleshy cones and disperse the seeds.
5. Creeping Juniper
Botanically called “Juniperus horizontalis”, creeping juniper is native to Northern United States, Alaska, and Canada. Some other common names of creeping juniper include trailing juniper and creeping Savin juniper.
These low-growing shrubs come with the most practical usage i.e., beautifying the landscape. For example, they can be used as a beautiful ground cover. You can also use them as a fragrant shrub to accentuate your porches, decks, and garden seating. This will allow you to enjoy its pleasant scent and the greenery in the area.
While by the sound of it, creeping juniper seems nothing less than a “creepy” juniper. However, it is far from that adjective. The reason why this juniper species is called creeping juniper is that it creeps into parts of plant borders. It spreads and covers patches of the ground, quicker than you can imagine. Although this type of ground covering looks gorgeous, maintaining such an area requires some sort of mowing expertise.
The best quality about creeping juniper is that it is adaptable to any type of soil – hot, dry, or even poor. At best, these shrubs flourish in hot, arid conditions. Owing to their drought-resistance capability, creeping juniper shrubs can be planted in areas where irrigation is impossible.
6. Drooping Juniper
Also known as weeping juniper, drooping juniper, as the name implies, is droopy in appearance. Native to Mexico and the Himalayas of North Eastern Pakistan, weeping juniper is a tall tree with drooping branches. The tree boasts a reddish-brown bark, broad-shaped crown, and needle-like leaves.
This variety of juniper tree produces berry-like cones that are 5 to 10 mm long and 4 to 7 mm in diameter. These glossy bluish-black cones contain only one seed and are the center of attraction among a large variety of birds. It is widely believed that this type of juniper can reach up to the heights of 10,000 feet or above!
Owing to its unique appearance, drooping juniper is mainly planted for ornamental purposes. Many birds and mammals consume the fleshy cones of drooping juniper. The wood is the most notable part of the variant as it is long-lasting and durable. It is locally used for the construction of fence-posts.
Did you know that drooping juniper of Texas made it to the list of American Forests Champion Trees in 2018? At that time, it was the biggest tree of its species in the United States. It is important to recognize these champion trees to understand the beauty and diversity of our ecosystem.
7. Eastern Redcedar
Scientifically called “Juniperus virginiana”, Eastern redcedar is not a true cedar. It is a renowned species of juniper and is largely distributed in the eastern United States. This variety of juniper can be spotted in every state of the United States. Regarded as a “pioneer” tree species, this hardy tree is the first species to occupy deserted regions by spreading seeds through waxwings and birds that prefer seed cones.
The Eastern Redcedar tree ranges from southeastern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. On the western side, red cedar tree ranges from East to the west side of the Great Plains. This evergreen species is a small to medium tree that spikes up to 50 feet in height. It has an upright trunk with thin, shedding strips. The hardy tree bears berry-like cones and scaly leaves. Another great way to identify Eastern Redcedar is from the presence of bagworms or cedar-apple rust that tends to infest this type of juniper species.
The wood obtained from redcedar is finely grained and resistant to decay as well. The wood is used for the construction of fence posts, pails, chests, and pencils. The oil produced from redceder is used to kill moths that feed on wool.
Eastern redcedar is best planted in full sun or partial shade. It can be grown in a variety of soil types such as moist clay.
8. Greek Juniper
Greek Juniper, or Juniperus excels is a type of juniper that is distributed throughout the eastern Mediterranean, northeastern Greece and southern Bulgaria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and all across Syria.
This evergreen tree has the capacity to reach up to 30 to 60 feet, boasting pointy, intense greenish-blue needles. These flat, scaly needled branches also produce small, purplish-blue cones. These cones are fleshy and form the appearance of a berry; however, only female trees tend to grow these attractive cones.
This towering tree is splendid to look at which is why it makes for a stunning scenic backdrop. The boughs have a strong fragrance to them which makes this variant an ideal option for some Christmas greenery. The berries that grow on this tree are used in sauces and marinades. They should ideally be soaked or simmered before eating. Looking after this form of the tree is super easy as it doesn’t need any heavy maintenance.
Greek Juniper requires little to no pruning and is also slightly water tolerant. If you like, you can go for trimming if you need to make garlands, wreaths, sprigs, or mantle decoration out of their thick crown. Its dense canopy serves as the best shelter for all types of birds.
9. One Seed Juniper
Scientifically known “Juniperus monosperma”, one-seed juniper is native to western North America, including regions such as Arizona, New Mexico, Western Oklahoma, Southern Colorado, and Western Texas.
This type of juniper is an evergreen small tree or a coniferous shrub with a dense crown. The maximum this juniper can grow in height is up to 2 to 7 m. The bark of the tree is grayish brown which exfoliates in thin strips, resulting in orangey-brown surface. The bark shoots up to 1.2 to 1.9 mm in width.
One way to distinguish one seed juniper from others is observing its broad leaves that range up to 10 mm in length. The juvenile leaves are needle-like and the cones are berry-like. Like other junipers, this low-growing variant attracts birds and mammals which help pollinate the tree. Owing to the pollination, the tree is able to mature within the span of 6 to 8 months.
Unfortunately, cones usually have their seed apex exposed. Formerly, it was believed that maybe the exposed part was a different species (Juniperus gymnocarpa). But later it was found out that it happens due to insects that would damage the cones during their developmental stage. Therefore, the seeds are always sterile.
A fun fact is that one seed juniper has the second deepest roots, after Boscia albitrunca, extending as deep as 61m well deep into the earth’s surface.
10. Rocky Mountain Juniper
Scientifically known as Juniperus scopulorum sarg, rocky mountain juniper is a small-growing tree that can reach up to 3 to 30 feet tall. The shape of the tree resembles a Christmas tree as it has similar small, scale-like pine leaves. The color of the leaves ranges from pale green to dark green.
The tree boasts separate male and female cones which are fleshy and chewy. They tend to be deep blue or purple in hue and are often covered with a whitish bloom that needs to be wiped off before using them. The cones contain two seeds and are pointy on one end.
Rocky Mountain juniper is a source of food and shelter to many wildlife species such as birds, deer, turkeys, mule, elk, sheep, and antelope. American Indians eat both raw and cooked berries and used them as a flavoring for meat and gin.
The fruits grown on rocky mountain juniper are also used for making flavored teas, cakes, mush, etc. The wax from the verries is used in candles as an ornamental piece. But that’s not it. The berries are also used in the making of shelterbelts and fence posts. Some studies also show that rocky mountain juniper possesses insect repellent properties.
Please note that mountain juniper pollinates from April to May and the berries mature from October to December.
11. Utah Juniper
As the name implies, Utah juniper is the most common tree species found in Utah as it covers 1/5th of the land area in the state!
Also known as Cedar Juniper, Utah Juniper is an evergreen, bushy species. Its round crown and a long trunk make for a dominant part of the tree. This type of juniper comes with an extensive root system which makes it highly competent for daily moisture. Overall, mature Utah juniper grows up to 30 feet tall and is able to live up to 650 years!
Utah juniper is commonly found on dry plains, plateaus, and mountains. This moisture-hungry tree can accept a wide range of soil textures; however, most of its kinds are found on gravelly loams or gravelly clay loams with a Ph level of 7.4 to 8.0.
12. Western Juniper
Western Juniper belongs to the Cupressaceae family, native to the Western United States. This species of Juniper grows in mountains at altitudes of 800 to 13000 meters. The shoots are moderately thick at about 1 mm in diameter. The young leaves are pointy with berry-like cones. These brownish blue cones mature in 18 months and can be used for different purposes.
The male cones are usually 2 to 4 mm in length and shed their pollen in early spring. Like most juniper trees, western juniper is an old, large tree. In gardens, it is often treated as a shrub.
That’s a wrap on the most popular varieties of juniper shrubs and trees. Pass on the wealth of information about these highly valued trees to others and surprise them with your knowledge!