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The Hardy Common Juniper

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The Hardy Common Juniper

Common Juniper Illustration

USDA-Forest Service collection, Hunt Institute

Introduction to the Common Juniper:

Common juniper is known by a variety of common names but I will just mention two, dwarf juniper and prostrate juniper. There are many subspecies or varieties of the common juniper (Juniperous communis). Common juniper is a low shrub that generally grows no more than 3 to 4 feet high but can grow into a 30 foot tree. The common Juniper is the only "circumpolar conifer" in the northern hemisphere and grows throughout North America.

The Common Juniper Tree Range:

Common juniper is found across the U.S.A. and Canada to Greenland, through Europe, across Siberia and Asia. Three major sub-species or varieties grow in North America: depressa occurs throughout Canada and the United States, megistocarpa occurs in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Quebec, montana occurs in Greenland, British Columbia, and California, Oregon and Washington States.

The Hardy Common Juniper:

Common juniper is a hardy shrub, sometimes growing to tree size in a wide range of ecological conditions. The dwarf juniper typically grows on dry, open, rocky slopes and mountainsides but may be found in stressed environments where competition with other plants is almost non-existent. It also often grows in partial shade. Depending upon the latitude it can be found from lowland bogs at sealevel to sub-alpine ridges and alpine tundra at over 10,000 feet. This juniper is also a common shrub of abandoned lowland fields in Northern United States.

Identification of Common Juniper:

The "leaf" of Common Juniper is needlelike and slender, in whorls of three, sharp-pointed, glossy green with a broad white band on the upper side. Common juniper bark is red-brown and peeling in thin, vertical strips. The fruit is a berry-like cone, green to glaucous to black as it ripens. The shrub and tree forms of common juniper can be called prostrate, weeping, creeping and bushy.

Uses of Common Juniper:

Common Juniper is of value for long-term land rehabilitation projects and is useful in preventing soil erosion. Common juniper provides important cover and browse for wildlife, especially mule deer. The cones are eaten by several species of song birds and are an important food source for wild turkeys. Common juniper make excellent, vigorous landscaping shrubs, which are readily propagated by cuttings in the commercial nursery trade. The juniper "berry" is used as a flavoring for gin and some foods.

Fire and the Common Juniper:

Common juniper is often killed by fire. It has been described as having minimal “firesurviving regeneration properties," and resprouting after fire is rare. The foliage of juniper is resinous and flammable which sustains and fuels wildfire and the plant will be killed at high fire intensities.

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