Junipers are another fascinating group of conifer trees, amazing for their beauty and tenacity to exist in harsh environments where most trees simply cannot.
They will grow high in the mountains, clinging to rock bluffs, bathing in salty ocean breezes, or thriving in semi-arid and arid deserts.
Junipers are in the Juniperus genus in the Cupressaceae or cypress family of gymnosperms that evolved over 200 million years ago, long before the flowering plants. Gymnosperms are ‘naked seed’ plants with no flowers or fruits grown from ovaries that encase their seeds.
There are 67 currently accepted distinct species of Juniperus found worldwide.
Junipers are mostly native to the northern hemisphere, with the southernmost species found in Malawi, Africa, at 10° south.
Most juniper populations are doing well worldwide, unlike many other conifer trees. Also, other than their expanding ranges in grasslands due to human influences, they are not considered invasive.
Juniper Tree Identification (With Photos)
Identifying Juniper Trees From Other Conifers by Their Leaves
Junipers can have one to three types of leaves. Most junipers start out with awl-shaped or occasionally needle-like leaves resembling fir or pine when they are young but then develop scale-like leaves more resembling cypress when they are mature (usually 4 – 5 years old).
Some junipers have only awl-shaped or needle-like leaves for their entire life, never developing scale-like leaves.
Some junipers are dimorphic when mature. This means they have two morphologically different types of leaves, awl-shaped and scale-like. In dimorphic junipers, the retention of their juvenile awl-shaped leaves is often limited to shaded, sterile, or sometimes rapidly growing branches and twigs.
Many junipers with scale-like leaves also have whip leaves (see below) that are intermediate between the two and are typically found on fast-growing terminal shoots. This is not counted as dimorphic since they are an intermediate leaf.
Among conifers, awl-shaped leaves are fairly unique to the Juniperus genus and are not often seen in other conifers. The presence of these types of leaves, in conjunction with another identification tool, can quickly give you a positive identification as a juniper.
When their leaves are more needle-like when mature, the presence of their berry-like seed cones (see below) will identify it as a juniper.
In junipers with scale-like leaves, when they do not overlap, and especially if whorled and not decussate (four-ranked, with two opposite pairs arranged at right angles to each other), this can identify them as a juniper. Most cypress or false cedars with scale-like leaves are four-ranked (decussate) and imbricate (overlapping) to various degrees. Juniper scale-like leaves are far more variable and may be decussate or whorled and imbricate or not.
When there is overlapping in junipers with scale-like leaves, another feature that helps identify it as juniper is that their scale-like leaves are often very closely appressed (tightly packed against the twig without any free edges). This often makes them more delicate and lacy looking than most other conifers with scale-like leaves.
Finally, though some junipers have the word cedar in their name, they are neither true nor false cedars. True cedars are part of the Pinaceae family and have dense clusters of needle-like leaves. Most false cedars are from the Cupressaceae family, like junipers, and have scale-like leaves. But their scale-like leaves tend to be larger, less appressed, seldom exude resins (see below), and are frequently arranged in flattened shoots. Juniper twigs are rarely arranged in flattened shoots. While a single shoot may be flat, it usually has other twigs arranged at various angles to it.
Some of these juniper false cedars are so commonly called cedar, like the Eastern Red Cedar and the Bermuda Cedar, that I covered those ones in my article on cedar trees.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Their Awl-Shaped or Needle-Like Leaves
Awl-shaped leaves are sometimes described as needle-like, but that is usually not accurate. Upon close inspection, they are not linear or needle-like. Instead, they are usually broader at the lower ⅓ of the leaf and gradually narrow towards an often very sharp-pointed tip, more like an awl than a needle.
They are typically arranged in whorls of three on the twigs (sometimes described as ternate or three-ranked), where three leaves are arranged around a node on the twig. Sometimes they may be arranged in opposite pairs (decussate or four-ranked), much like how most scale-like leaves are arranged.
Awl-shaped leaves are usually keeled like a boat (bent outwards, producing a ridge) on the bottom, creating a channel or groove in the upper surface. The length of the leaf and the depth of the channel, and the angle of the keel can be used to help identify the different types of junipers with awl-shaped leaves.
Occasionally junipers have more needle-like leaves that are more uniform and linear and can be described by their length, thickness, bases, tips, and stomatal bands, if present.
A good tool for identifying junipers with awl-shaped and needle-like leaves is by examining their bases. Some have bases that are jointed, which is a noticeable physical bend in the base of the leaf that sometimes appears like a leaf stalk or petiole. Some have bases that are decurrent, which is when the leaf base extends downwards onto the twig.
The combination of jointed and decurrent features can help to identify different species. For example, Common Juniper has both jointed and decurrent bases. Shore Juniper has a jointed base but is not decurrent. Flaky Juniper has a base that is not jointed but is decurrent. Finally, Temple Juniper has a base that is neither jointed nor decurrent; in fact, it has an attachment that often resembles the ‘suction cups’ of true fir more than it does juniper.
Identifying Juniper Trees With Scale-Like Leaves
Scale-like leaves can seem hard to understand at first, but after learning some basic morphology, it becomes far less daunting.
Scale-like juniper leaves may be decussate (four-ranked) or whorled (three-ranked or ternate) (see above). Sometimes you can have both on the same branch or tree, which is why this feature is used less often in identifying juniper species with scale-like leaves.
Scale-like leaves in junipers may or may not be imbricate, meaning they overlap each other. Whether they overlap or not, and if they do, by how much, can be useful in identifying the different species of juniper trees.
Usually, the scale-like leaves of juniper are closely appressed or flattened against the twig without any free surfaces of any kind. Occasionally, some juniper leaves have free tips, and even less often, they may even be free for half or more of their length. This can also help identify the different types of juniper trees.
The shape of the leaf tips, whether they are acute (angled), sharp-pointed (acuminate), obtuse (wide-angled), rounded, or blunt (no angle), can also help describe the leaves and identify the different species of junipers. This same terminology applies to awl-shaped or needle-like leaves, but in junipers, those leaves are almost always very sharp-pointed (acuminate), so we usually just discuss the leaf tip in scale-like leaves.
Sometimes the tips of the leaves are described as incurved, which means that they bend inwards at the tip. This is only seen in those that have free tips that can bend inwards. But this can also be useful in helping to determine certain types of junipers.
Whether the leaf margins are finely toothed or smooth is also useful in determining juniper species. However, since that must be viewed at 20x or even 40x magnification, in this article, we will rely instead on features that are visible to the naked eye.
Identifying Juniper Trees With Whip Leaves
Whip leaves are found in junipers with scale-like leaves on juvenile twigs or fast-growing ‘whip shoots.’ They are typically intermediate between a scale-like and awl-shaped leaf. Most trees with scale-like leaves have whip leaves as well, often intermingled with their scale-like leaves. Occasionally an entire tree will have only whip leaves, and one juniper endemic to Cuba (Juniperus saxicola) has only whip leaves when mature.
Whip leaves are typically decurrent (the leaf base extending down onto the twig), usually awl-shaped, sometimes imbricate, and free at the tips and spreading away from the stem. Their length and whether or not they are glaucous (a waxy coating that can be rubbed off) on their upper surface can be useful tools to help in identifying juniper trees.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Resin Glands
Many juniper species, particularly those with scale-like and whip leaves, have characteristic resin glands on one or more of their leaf surfaces. The glands may be circular, elliptical, elongated, etc in shape.
They may be indented below the leaf surface, or they may be raised above it. These glands may also release a resinous or often crystalline exudate, or they may not have any visible exudate released from them at all. The shape, exudate, and other characteristics of the resin glands are often used to help identify the different types of juniper trees.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Stomata
Stomata are small pores or openings in leaf surfaces that allow for gas exchange with the atmosphere, which is a critical part of photosynthesis. These pores may be coated with wax and produce visible patterns, lines, or bands of multiple lines that can be used to help identify different conifer species.
Most junipers, particularly those with scale-like leaves, have inconspicuous stomata. They are always still present since they’re a necessary part of plant survival. But many junipers grow in semi-arid environments where low-density stomata are an adaptation to prevent water loss. Too many pores would mean too much transpiration and subsequent water loss in an environment where water is a scarce and precious resource.
Sometimes, particularly in junipers with awl-shaped leaves, there are one or more bands of visible stomata on the upper surface of their leaves. This can sometimes be used to help identify the different types of juniper trees.
The Confusion of Juniper Tree Sexuality
There seems to be some confusion on juniper tree sexuality. Many sources claim they are all dioecious with separate male and female trees, some claim they are bisexual or hermaphroditic, while others correctly say they are both dioecious and monoecious.
Most junipers are actually dioecious, with separate male and female trees, a very uncommon feature among the coniferous trees.
But some junipers are monoecious, like most conifers, with separate male and female cones on the same tree. But this is much less common in junipers than among conifers in general.
Some of the confusion may come from the fact that many juniper species can be both monoecious or dioecious within the same species. How often they are one or the other varies with the species. Some are about 50% each, others only 10% monecious, or 10% dioecious, 2% monoecious, etc.
They are, however, like all conifers, never bisexual or hermaphroditic, with both female and male organs in the same cone.
Is a Juniper Berry a Berry or a Seed Cone?
Junipers are unique among the Cupressaceae family for their usually soft and resinous berry-like seed cones, which resemble berries so much that most people simply call them juniper berries.
While it does very much resemble a berry with its size, colors, and often soft fleshy feel, botanically speaking, it is not at all a berry. Berries are fruits that encase seeds and come from the pollinated ovaries of flowering plants in the angiosperm phylum.
Junipers are part of the gymnosperm phylum, not angiosperms, and they produce cones. Juniper berries are developmentally just like a pine or a cypress seed cone but morphologically appear quite different.
Juniper seed cones have seed scales like all conifers, but their scales are fleshy instead of woody. These fleshy scales are then typically so well and permanently merged together that you often cannot even see the individual scales. They look and function just like a berry, including being eaten by animals to aid in their dispersal. But, strictly speaking, they are a seed cone, not a berry.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Their Seed Cones aka Berries
Juniper seed cones (berries) are almost always highly resinous, making them soft and squishy like true berries. And like true berries, their seeds are embedded within the soft flesh.
Junipers may have one or two distinct sizes of seed cones found on the same tree. The size, shape, and color of the seed cones are very important tools to help identify the different types of junipers.
In junipers, the seed cones are almost always glaucous. This is an epicuticular waxy coating secreted by the junipers on the surface of their cones (and often leaves) that can be rubbed off. When the colors of mature fruits are given, this describes the color beneath the waxy coating. In some junipers, the glaucous coating is so thick that you will need to rub it off to see the true color of the fleshy cone beneath.
Occasionally, in certain species, cones may become somewhat woody or fibrous, but the scales remain merged as they mature. Some seed cones are not resinous. These are sometimes helpful in identifying the different types of junipers.
The number of seeds inside the seed cones is a very valuable tool in helping identify the different species of junipers. Most have between 1 – 3 seeds, but some have more, and some can even have more than ten seeds per cone. Occasionally, the size, shape, and color of the seeds are also used to aid in identification (but we focus only on numbers in this article). Just squish the fleshy cone in your fingers to reveal the number and features of the seeds inside.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Their Umbos
Umbos are small protrusions on the outside of seed scales seen in most coniferous species. They have characteristic lengths, sizes, colors, and shapes that often aid in identification.
In junipers, you cannot easily count the number of seed scales like you often do when identifying other types of conifers. When umbos are present, however, each umbo indicates the presence of a single seed scale. This allows you to count the number of scales. However, because umbo’s presence can vary, I have left out the number of seed scales in this article.
Often, juniper seed cones are mostly smooth on the outside with only very minute, inconspicuous umbos.
But sometimes, they have more protruding umbos that are often triangular in shape. They are usually still the same color as the seed cone itself, but occasionally they can be a slightly different color. Their absence or presence and how much they protrude can sometimes be used to help distinguish between the different types of juniper.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Pollen Cones
As with the majority of coniferous trees, the pollen cones of juniper trees are often very small and inconspicuous, and incredibly uniform between species. In some cases, they are so small that they are rarely even seen. They are typically terminal and often are not any thicker or only minimally thicker than the twigs so that they look like discolorations on the end of the twigs (see image below). Pollen cones are seldom used to aid in the identification of juniper trees.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Tree or Shrub Habit
Habit is the overall shape of the tree or shrub and how it appears from a distance. Juniper trees have the typical shapes seen in other trees, being conical, pyramidal, columnar, irregular, open, spreading, or flattened.
Juniper trees and shrubs have trunks that may be single-stemmed, or more often in the genus, they are multi-stemmed, often branching rather heavily from the ground up.
Juniper shrubs can look like small trees with similar habits, but many others have unique shapes that can be described as prostrate, procumbent, or decumbent.
Prostrate shrubs are where most of the branches lie upon or just above the ground rather than being held erect, and those on the ground will often root, creating a shrub that is much wider than it is tall.
Procumbent shrubs are very similar to prostrate shrubs, but their branches will not root on the ground, resulting in a more compact form that does not spread as wide.
Decumbent shrubs are similar to procumbent and prostrate shrubs, where the branches lie on the ground, but in this case, the branch tips are all ascending, though the rest of the branch does not.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Branch Growth
Juniper branches are most often spreading to ascending but occasionally can be horizontal (often with ascending tips) or, particularly in harsh environments, irregular and crooked. Their twigs are usually erect but occasionally are drooping or pendulous (hanging downwards – giving them a weeping appearance). These features can also be used to help identify the different types of juniper.
Identifying Juniper Trees by Bark
Juniper bark, like all trees, starts out smooth when it is very young but typically matures to fibrous and various shades of gray, brown, or reddish when mature. Fibrous bark shreds in long and thin or sometimes wide vertical strips. Sometimes their fibrous bark also develops vertical grooves, which can help identify the types of junipers.
Occasionally, in some juniper species, the bark can be scaly and flaking, but this is usually confined to larger branches that have not yet developed the characteristic fibrous bark of the mature trunk.
One juniper species, the Alligator Juniper, has grooved bark that is cross-checked and broken into square plates that look very similar to the skin on an alligator’s back. This makes it the easiest juniper species to identify. This bark can even be seen on small specimens under 3 ft tall.
25 Different Types of Juniper Trees & Their Identifying Features
1. Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana)
Alligator Juniper gets its name from the distinctive brown bark cracked into squarish plates, resembling the skin on an alligator’s back.
They’re single-stemmed trees with rounded crowns, spreading to ascending branches, and erect 3 – 4-sided twigs that are ⅔ or less as wide as the leaf length.
Leaves are green to glaucous silvery blue, with conspicuous egg-shaped to elliptic glands on lower surfaces without exudate.
Whip leaves are 0.12 – 0.24” and not glaucous on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves are less than 0.08” and don’t overlap but are keeled, closely appressed, and have a small acute tip.
They’re dioecious trees. Females have two sizes of rounded glaucous reddish-tan to dark reddish-brown seed cones, 0.3 – 0.6”, with a straight to curved stalk and 1 – 7 relatively large (0.24 – 0.35”) seeds.
They grow in open woodlands on dry, arid mountain slopes at 3940 – 5900 ft.
Other Common Names: Checkerbark Juniper, Western Juniper, Oakbark Cedar, Thickbark Cedar, Mountain Cedar, and in Spanish Tascate, Tacate, Tlascal
Identifying Features: Alligator Juniper has distinctive cross-checked brown bark with square scales that look like alligator skin, making it the easiest juniper to identify. Additionally, their often glaucous silvery blue, closely appressed, delicate scale-like leaves with conspicuous egg-shaped to elliptic glands that do not exude resin, and their glaucous reddish-tan to reddish-brown fleshy seed cones with 1 – 7 seeds will give a quick positive identification.
Native Area: Southwestern USA from Arizona west to Texas plus south to central Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 40 ft (to 65 ft) tall, 20 – 25 ft spread
2. California Juniper (Juniperus californica)
California Juniper is a multi-stemmed shrub to small tree (rarely single-stemmed) with gray, fibrous bark, rounded crowns, and spreading to ascending branches.
Twigs are erect, rounded in cross-section, and about as wide as the length of the leaves.
Leaves are light green with conspicuous elliptic to egg-shaped glands on lower surfaces that do not exude resin.
Whip leaves are 0.12 – 0.2” and not glaucous on the upper surface.
Scalelike leaves are 0.12” or less, do not overlap or rarely overlap by ⅕ their length, are closely appressed, flattened, and have an acute to obtuse tip.
Trees are mostly dioecious (2% monoecious). Seed cones are one-sized, rounded, 0.28 – 0.51”, glaucous bluish-brown, fleshy and fibrous, with straight stalks and 1(2) seeds.
The seed cones (berries) are said to be sweeter than most juniper species and are occasionally harvested for human consumption and eaten fresh like berries.
Other Common Names: Desert White Cedar, California White Cedar, Sweetberry Cedar, Cedros Island Juniper, in Spanish Huata, Cedro
Identifying Features: California Juniper’s usually multi-stemmed habit with gray, fibrous bark, a rounded crown, erect rounded twigs about as wide as the length of the leaves, scale-like leaves that are not glaucous and rarely overlap, and rounded, 0.28 – 0.51”, fleshy fibrous seed cones that are glaucous bluish-brown on straight stalks with 1(2) seeds will help identify it. It can be easy to mistake it for Utah Juniper, which can be differentiated by their 3 – 4-sided rather than rounded twigs, more yellow-green than green leaves, and they’re mostly monoecious rather than mostly dioecious trees.
Native Area: California, southern Nevada, western Arizona, south into Baja California, Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 25 ft (to 50 ft) tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
3. Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Common Juniper is a circumboreal species with only awl-shaped leaves whose features vary regionally with its numerous botanical varieties.
In general, their awl-shaped leaves are in whorls of three that are jointed and decurrent at the base. They’re loose or spreading, pungent, 0.24 – 0.71”, with a median white stomatal band above, and glaucous bluish or black seed cones that are 0.24 – 0.51” and mostly three-seeded.
The main North American variety are decumbent shrubs to 6.6 ft tall and about as wide with spreading or ascending, 0.4 – 0.71” (rarely shorter) leaves with a stomatal band narrower than each green margin.
The main Eurasian variety is tree-like, with white stomatal bands at least as broad as each margin.
The main high-northern variety is nearly prostrate, with oblong, short-pointed, overlapping 0.24 – 0.4” leaves with a stomatal band wider than each margin.
Other Common Names: Dwarf Juniper, Prostrate Juniper, Mountain Common Juniper, Old Field Common Juniper, Ground Juniper, Carpet Juniper
Identifying Features: Common Juniper of all botanical variants has only awl-shaped leaves that are 0.24 – 0.71”, with a jointed and decurrent base and a single median white stomatal band above, and are arranged in whorls of three. This, along with their glaucous bluish or black 0.24 – 0.51” seed cones that are mostly three-seeded, should help identify this juniper, whether it is a decumbent or prostrate shrub or a small tree. It is sometimes misidentified as Western Prickly Juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), which has two white stomatal bands on the upper surface of its leaves and its berry-like seed cones are orange-red.
Native Area: Circumboreal, throughout northern North America, Europe, northern Asia, Japan
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 7 (8 with protection from afternoon sun)
Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 25 ft tall, 3 – 12 ft spread
Some of the Cultivars Available:
4. Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
Creeping Juniper is a prostrate to decumbent shrub that grows wider than it does tall. It has a depressed crown, brown fibrous bark, and creeping branches.
Twigs are erect, 3 – 4-sided, and ⅔ or less wide than the length of the leaves.
Leaves are green but may turn reddish-purple in winter. They have conspicuous elliptic glands on the lower surfaces without exudate.
Whip leaves are 0.16 – 0.32” and not glaucous on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves are small (0.06 – 0.08”) and mostly overlapping to ⅓ their length, spreading, with a variously rounded to pointed tip.
They are dioecious with two-sized seed cones that typically have curved stalks and are rounded to egg-shaped, 0.2 – 0.28”, blue-black to brownish-blue, usually lightly glaucous, soft and resinous, with 1 – 2(3) seeds per cone.
This is a popular garden groundcover ornamental with over 100 cultivars available.
Other Common Names: Trailing Juniper, Creeping Savin Juniper, Creeping Cedar
Identifying Features: Creeping Juniper is a prostrate to decumbent shrub that grows wider than it does tall with a depressed crown, creeping branches, brown fibrous bark, 3 – 4-sided erect twigs, and small scale-like leaves mostly overlapping to ⅓ of their length. The female shrubs have two-sized 0.2 – 0.28” rounded to egg-shaped, blue-black to brownish-blue, lightly glaucous seed cones with 1 – 2(3) seeds each. It is mostly confused with Common Juniper due to its similar habit and habitat, but the awl-shaped rather than scale-like leaves will quickly differentiate the two.
Native Area: Canada, Alaska, scattered populations in northern USA from Montana east to New England
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 1 – 2 ft tall, 5 – 10 ft spread
Some of the Cultivars Available (Left to Right):
- Blue Rug Juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ is a low-growing prostrate shrub with lush blue-green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Wisconsin Juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wisconsin’ is a low-growing decumbent shrub with dark green feathery leaves that turn plum in the winter – Image via Nature Hills
- Blue Chip Juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ is a low-growing prostrate shrub with iridescent blue-green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Good Vibrations® Juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Hegedus’ is a low shrub with spreading branches of greenish-yellow leaves that turn gold in summer and orangish in winter – Image by Proven Winners, Available at Nature Hills
- Andorra Juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Plumosa’ is a low-growing compact decumbent shrub with rich gray-green leaves that turn plum in the fall – Image via Nature Hills
- Hughes Juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Hughes‘ is a low-growing decumbent shrub with graceful branches of silvery blue-green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Bar Harbor Juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Bar Harbor’ is a low-growing prostrate shrub with unique blue-grey leaves that turn purplish in winter – Image via Nature Hills
- Prince of Wales Juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Prince of Wales’ is a low-growing decumbent shrub with low spreading branches of green leaves with a hint of blue then purple in winter – Image via Nature Hills
5. Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum)
Rocky Mountain Juniper is a single-stemmed (rarely multi-stemmed) tree with a conical or rounded crown, spreading to ascending branches, and brown fibrous bark that may be plate-like on large branches.
Twigs are erect to drooping, 3 – 4-sided, and ⅔ or less as wide as the scale-like leaf length.
Light to dark green leaves are glaucous blue or blue-gray with conspicuous elliptic lower leaf glands that usually don’t exude resin.
Whip leaves are 0.12 – 0.24” and not glaucous on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves are 0.04 – 0.12”, not overlapping to overlapping by ⅕ their length or less, keeled to rounded, appressed to spreading, with an obtuse to acute tip.
They’re dioecious with two-sized seed cones that are rounded to two-lobed, 0.24 – 0.35”, often heavily glaucous light blue but dark blue-black beneath, resinous to fibrous, usually straight-stalked with small umbos and 2(1-3) seeds.
Other Common Names: Mountain Red Cedar, Rocky Mountain Cedar, Rocky Mountain Red Cedar, Colorado Red Cedar, River Juniper, Western Juniper, Western Red Cedar
Identifying Features: Rocky Mountain Juniper is a single-stemmed small to medium tree with a conical or sometimes rounded crown, brown fibrous bark, ascending to spreading branches, glaucous blue or blue-gray leaves that may or may not overlap to ⅕ their length, and two-sized, 0.24 – 0.35”, rounded to two-lobed seed cones that are heavily glaucous but blue-black beneath and are resinous to fibrous with 2(1-3) seeds. It is sometimes mistaken for Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), but that one usually has smaller one-sized seed cones (¼” or less), and their leaves always overlap by ¼ of their length.
Native Area: Rocky Mountains and other mountains of western North America from BC and Alberta, Canada, south through to Arizona, east to west Texas
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 40 ft (to 65 ft tall), 3 – 15 ft spread
Some of the Cultivars Available (Left to Right):
- Juniper ‘Wichita Blue’ Tree Juniperus scopulorum ‘Wichita’ is a tall compact conical shrub to 15 ft tall, with dense silvery blue-green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Moonglow Juniper Juniperus scopulorum ‘Moonglow’ is a narrowly pyramidal to conical shrub with shiny blue-green leaves said to reflect the light of the moon – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
6. Seaside Juniper (Juniperus maritima, Juniperus scopulorum)
While plant authorities still describe Seaside Juniper as a synonym of Rocky Mountain Juniper, there is good recent scientific evidence from a known Juniperus expert that it should be its own species rather than a disjunct population.
While it is similar to the Rocky Mountain Juniper, there are some significant genetic differences.
Additionally, the Seaside Juniper has faster-maturing cones that often have uniquely protruding seeds not seen in Rocky Mountain Juniper.
They also differ in their mostly obtuse leaf tips on their scale-like leaves.
Their habitat preference is the most extreme difference between the two. Seaside Junipers usually grow at the ocean’s edge or nearby lakes in much milder, wetter climates on sandy or granite soils. Rocky Mountain Juniper grows on dry, rocky ground in colder regions high in the mountains.
It is not yet listed on IUCN’s Red List but on Nature Serve, it is listed as G3 Vulnerable.
Other Common Names: Puget Sound Juniper
Identifying Features: The Seaside Juniper is much like the Rocky Mountain Juniper being a single-stemmed small tree with brown fibrous bark, branches that are ascending to spreading, and scale-like leaves that overlap to ⅕ of their length or less. They differ in having obtuse and never acute tips on their scale-like leaves, and their 0.24 – 0.35” rounded to two-lobed seed cones have 2(1) seeds (never 3) that uniquely protrude from the cone. It is also a bit smaller than the Rocky Mountain Juniper and grows mostly at or close to sea level in a narrow strip of land very close to the ocean in wetter, milder climates.
Native Area: Narrow endemic of coastal bluffs of the Salish Sea, southwestern British Columbia, and Puget Sound, Washington, plus the drier bluffs of the adjacent Olympic Cascades in Washington not far from the ocean
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 25 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread
7. One Seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma)
One Seed Junipers are multi-stemmed shrubs or trees with rounded to somewhat flattened crowns, ascending to erect branches, and gray to brown fibrous bark that’s sometimes flaky on large branches.
Twigs are erect, 4 – 6-sided, and about ⅔ as wide as the scale-like leaf length.
Leaves are green to dark green, with elongated glands on the lower surfaces where ⅕ or less (whip leaves) have a white crystalline exudate.
Whip leaves are 0.16 – 0.24” and glaucous on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves are 0.04 – 0.12”, not overlapping or overlapping by less than ¼ their length, decussate or whorled, keeled, spreading, not usually closely appressed, with an acute to sharp-pointed tip.
They’re dioecious (occasionally monecious) with one-sized (0.24 – 0.32”) rounded to egg-shaped seed cones that are glaucous reddish-blue to brownish-blue, fleshy and resinous, often with conspicuous triangular umbos, straight stalks, and 1(-3) small seeds.
Other Common Names: Cherry-stone Juniper, Oneseed Juniper, New Mexico Juniper, West Texas Juniper, in Spanish Enebro, Sabina
Identifying Features: One Seed Juniper is a multi-stemmed shrub or tree with a usually rounded or somewhat flattened crown, spreading to ascending branches, gray to brown fibrous bark, narrow 4 – 6-sided twigs, whip leaves with elongated resin glands that sometimes have white crystalline exudate, and glaucous reddish-blue to brownish-blue, 0.24 – 0.32” seed cones on straight stalks with 1(-3) seeds. It is easy to confuse it with Utah Juniper, but that one has wider 3 – 4-sided twigs, yellow-green leaves with inconspicuous glands without any exudate, and fibrous glaucous bluish-brown to tan seed cones.
Native Area: New Mexico, southern and central Arizona, plus southern Colorado, western Texas, western Oklahoma, extreme northern Chihuahua, Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 25 ft (to 59 ft) tall, 6 – 10 ft spread
8. Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)
Utah Juniper is a multi-stemmed or single-stemmed shrub or tree with gray-brown fibrous bark and spreading to ascending branches.
Twigs are erect, 3 – 4-sided, and about as wide as the length of the scale-like leaves.
Leaves are light yellow-green, with inconspicuous glands embedded in the lower surface that do not exude resin.
Whip leaves are 0.12 – 0.2” long and are glaucous on the upper surface.
Scalelike leaves are small, 0.08” or less, and do not overlap or overlap by less than 1/10 of their length. They are keeled, appressed, and typically have a rounded tip.
Plants are mostly monoecious (10% dioecious) with 1 – 2-sized seed cones that are rounded, about ⅓” in diameter, usually with small triangular umbos, straight-stalked, bluish-brown to tan beneath the glaucous coating, fibrous, and have 1(2) small seeds.
This juniper grows very well in alkaline soil.
Other Common Names: Desert Juniper, Desert Cedar, Shagbark Juniper, Bigberry Juniper, in Spanish Sabina, Sabina Morena, Cedro
Identifying Features: Utah Juniper is very similar to the One Seed Juniper, and the two can sometimes be difficult to tell apart. However, Utah Juniper has wider 3 – 4-sided twigs equal in width to the length of the scale-length leaves (instead of 4 – 6-sided and ⅔ as wide), yellow-green leaves with inconspicuous glands that do not exude resin, and 1 – 2-sized rounded straight-stalked fibrous (not fleshy and resinous) glaucous bluish-brown to tan seed cones with usually smaller umbos and 1(2) seeds.
Native Area: Colorado, Utah, Nevada, western New Mexico, Arizona, southeastern California, north to southern Idaho, southern Montana, western Wyoming
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 20 ft (to 30 ft) tall, 10 – 15 ft spread
9. Drooping Juniper (Juniperus flaccida)
Drooping Juniper is a unique small tree with drooping branches and twigs and a trunk that forks 3.3 – 6.6 ft above the base with a rounded crown and cinnamon red-brown or gray red-brown fibrous bark exfoliating in broad interlaced strips.
Leaves are green with conspicuous elongated lower leaf glands without exudate. They have decurrent whip leaves that are 0.16 – 0.24” long and not glaucous on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves often resemble whip leaves and are 0.06 – 0.08” long, narrowly egg-shaped, and have a pointed tip.
Seed cones are one-sized, large (0.35 – 0.8”), rounded, glaucous tan-brown to purple-brown, somewhat woody and smooth or with horn-like umbos, and have straight or curved stalks and 6-10 (4-13) seeds per cone.
It grows in mountainous areas in dry soils at 2600 – 8500 ft.
Other Common Names: Drooping Cedar, Mexican Drooping Juniper, Weeping Juniper, in Spanish Cedro, Cedro Liso, Cipres, Enebro, Sabino, Tlascal, Tascate
Identifying Features: Drooping Juniper is a unique juniper easy to identify by its drooping branches and twigs, rounded crown, reddish-brown fibrous bark that exfoliates in interlaced strips, decurrent leaves without exudate in elongated glands, and relatively large 0.35 – 0.8” rounded seed cones often with horn-like umbos and 6-10 (4-13) seeds per cone. It is similar to Pueblo Juniper (Juniperus poblana), a Mexican endemic that also has drooping twigs and a forking trunk, but it usually has smaller glaucous blue-brown seed cones (0.47” or less) with conspicuous lines from the fusion of its seed scales, making them look like soccer balls.
Native Area: Extreme southwestern Texas south through to Oaxaca, southern Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 30 ft (to 55 ft) tall, 20 – 35 ft spread
10. Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis)
Western Juniper is a single-stemmed medium-sized tree with a rounded to conical crown, spreading to ascending branches, and red-brown to brown fibrous bark that may be scaly on larger branches.
Twigs are erect, 3 – 4-sided, and ⅔ or less as wide as the scale-like leaf length.
Leaves are green with conspicuous egg-shaped to elliptic lower leaf glands with a yellow or white exudate.
Whip leaves are 0.12 – 0.24” and are not glaucous on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves are small (0.12” or less), not overlapping, rounded, and appressed, with an acute to obtuse tip.
Plants are either monoecious or dioecious (50% each) with two-sized, 0.2 – 0.4”, egg-shaped seed cones that are straight-stalked, glaucous blue to blue-black, fleshy and resinous, with 2(3) seeds.
Though native, it’s considered invasive in Oregon, where it’s invading grasslands due to human factors and is being controlled with prescribed burning.
Other Common Names: Sierra Juniper
Identifying Features: Western Juniper is a medium-sized tree with a rounded to conical crown, red to red-brown fibrous bark, erect twigs that are 3 – 4-sided and ⅔ or less as wide as the scale-like leaf length with appressed, non-overlapping scale-like leaves with conspicuous egg-shaped to elliptic glands with yellow or white exudates, and egg-shaped 0.2 – 0.4”, straight-stalked, glaucous blue to blue-black, seed cones with 2(3) seeds. It is usually only confused with Sierra Juniper, but that one is usually taller and has oval lower leaf glands and somewhat rounded, glaucous purple-red, blue, or purple seed cones with 1-2 seeds per cone.
Native Area: USA endemic of mountains of California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Washington
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 40 ft (to 78 ft) tall, 15 – 25 ft (to 42 ft) spread
11. Sierra Juniper (Juniperus grandis)
Sierra Juniper is a medium to large-sized tree with a single stout trunk up to 10 ft wide, thick ascending or spreading often curved or contorted branches, and a pyramidal crown becoming rounded and irregular with age. Leaves form dense pillowy tufts at the ends of main branches.
The bark is smooth pink-brown becoming gray and flaky, then fibrous red-brown or brown.
Twigs are numerous, stout (to 0.08”), and four-sided.
Leaves are dark green with conspicuous oval lower leaf glands often exuding yellow or white resin.
Scale-like leaves are decussate, not overlapping, appressed, and 0.08 – 0.12” long with an acute or obtuse tip.
They are dioecious (occasionally monoecious) with somewhat rounded 0.33” glaucous purple-red, blue, or purple seed cones that are fleshy or pulpy, slightly resinous, with 1 – 2 seeds per cone.
Not yet listed on the IUCN, but Nature Serve lists it as Vulnerable.
Other Common Names: Sierra Western Juniper, Western Juniper, Yellow Juniper, Grand Juniper
Identifying Features: The Sierra Juniper is a large tree with a single massive stem, red-brown to brown fibrous bark, an irregular crown, often contorted branches with dense pillowy tufts of leaves, scale-like leaves that are decussate, not overlapping, with oval glands with yellow or white exudate, and large (0.33”) roundish seed cones that are glaucous purplish, fleshy or pulpy, with 1- 2 seeds per cone. It can be confused with Western Juniper, which it used to be a subspecies of, but that one has two-sized (0.2 – 0.4”) egg-shaped seed cones that are glaucous blue to blue-black, fleshy and more resinous, with 2(3) seeds.
Native Area: Narrow endemic of the mountains of California and extreme western Nevada, plus higher elevations of the Mojave Desert in southern California
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 85 ft (to 100 ft) tall, 20 – 40 ft spread
12. Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei)
Ashe Juniper is a single to multi-stemmed small tree with a rounded to irregular open crown, spreading to ascending branches, and brown fibrous bark.
Twigs are erect, 3-4-sided, and ⅔ or less as wide as the scale-like leaf length.
Leaves are dark green, with hemispheric lower leaf glands that are raised (especially on whip leaves) and do not exude resin.
Whip leaves are 0.12 – 0.24” long and are not glaucous on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves are small (0.08” or less), not overlapping or overlapping to ¼ their length, keeled, spreading, and have an acute to obtuse tip.
They’re dioecious with one-sized seed cones that are straight-stalked, egg-shaped to almost round, 0.24 – 0.35”, glaucous dark blue, fleshy and resinous, with 1(-3) seeds.
While native to Texas, many local landowners there consider it invasive because its range is expanding due to fire suppression and overgrazing.
Other Common Names: Ozark White Cedar, Mountain Cedar, Blueberry Juniper, Post Cedar, Cedar, in Spanish Enebro de monte
Identifying Features: Ashe Juniper is usually a single-stemmed small tree with a round to irregular open crown, brown fibrous bark, erect slender twigs that are 3 – 4-sided, dark green leaves with raised hemispheric lower leaf glands without exudate, and egg-shaped to almost round 0.24 – 0.35” seed cones that are glaucous dark blue with 1(-3) seeds. It is often confused with Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), but that one usually has smaller blue-black to brownish-blue seed cones (¼” or less), and their leaves always overlap by ¼ of their length or more instead of only sometimes in Ashe Juniper.
Native Area: Mostly central Texas with disjunct populations in northeastern Mexico, Arkansas, Oklahoma, southern Missouri
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 15 ft tall (to 40 ft), 8 – 15 ft (to 25 ft) spread
13. Red Berry Juniper (Juniperus pinchotii)
Red Berry Juniper is a multi-stemmed shrub or small shrubby tree with a flattened-rounded to irregular crown, spreading to ascending branches, and ashy gray to brown fibrous bark that is sometimes flaky on larger branches.
Twigs are erect, 3 – 4-sided in cross-section, and ⅔ as wide as the length of the scale-like leaves.
Leaves are yellow-green, with elliptic to elongate glands on the lower leaves with conspicuous white crystalline resin.
Whip leaves are 0.16 – 0.24” long and are not glaucous on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves are small (0.08” or less), not overlapping or overlapping by ⅕ or less of their length, keeled, spreading, and have an acute tip.
They are dioecious trees. Female trees have one-sized seed cones that are straight-stalked, rounded to egg-shaped, 0.24 – 0.4”, copper to copper-red, not glaucous, fleshy and sweet, not resinous, with 1(2) seeds per cone.
Other Common Names: Pinchot Juniper, Texas Juniper, Christmasberry Juniper
Identifying Features: Red Berry Juniper is quite easy to identify when female trees are present because they have unusual fleshy sweet copper or copper-red seed cones that are not resinous or glaucous. Additionally, it can be identified by its yellow-green leaves with elliptic to elongate glands on the lower leaves that exude a conspicuous white crystalline resin. Mediterranean Juniper (Juniperus turbinata) also has reddish seed cones, but they contain 7 – 9 seeds, and so does Phoenician Juniper (Juniperus phoenicea), but they contain 3 – 8 seeds.
Native Area: Eastern New Mexico, western and central Texas, western Oklahoma, plus northeastern Mexico in Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Coahuila
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 3 – 25 ft tall, 3 – 25 ft spread
14. Savin Juniper (Juniperus sabina)
Savin Juniper is usually a small to medium, more or less prostrate to decumbent shrub but is occasionally erect and larger, with an irregular crown, reddish-brown bark, and branches that ascend at the tips.
Twigs are slender (to 1 mm), rounded to slightly angled.
The leaves are dimorphic, with two types seen on adult plants. They have awl-shaped 0.16” long leaves that are sharp-pointed and glaucous on the upper surface that are found in whorls on sterile branches.
They also have scale-like leaves that are usually decussate (four-ranked), 0.04 – 0.12” long, with a conspicuous gland on the lower surface.
Plants are mostly dioecious (sometimes monoecious), and seed cones are rounded to egg-shaped, 0.08” in diameter, glaucous bluish-black, on a curved stalk, and ripen in 12 – 18 months with 1 – 3 seeds per cone.
Other Common Names: Savin, Savine, Tam Juniper
Identifying Features: Savin Juniper’s dimorphic leaves, along with its more or less prostrate habit, will help identify this species and differentiate it from most other prostrate junipers. Its 0.08” rounded to egg-shaped seed cones that are glaucous bluish-black on a curved stalk with 1 – 3 seeds per cone will also help identify it. It’s sometimes confused with the Chinese Juniper, but that one is a larger tree with larger seed cones (0.16 – 0.35”) with 1 – 4 seeds per cone.
Native Area: Mountains of central and southern Europe, Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Ural, Siberia, typically at 4600 – 7550 ft
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 4 – 6 ft(to 16 ft) tall, 5 – 10 ft spread
Some of the Cultivars Available (Left to Right):
- Calgary Carpet® Juniper Juniperus sabina ‘Monna’ is a low-growing shrub ascending to spreading branches of rich green leaves that are unusually soft for a juniper – Image via Nature Hills
- Buffalo Juniper Juniperus sabina ‘Buffalo’ is a low-growing shrub with low, spreading branches and soft and feathery bright green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Broadmoor Juniper Juniperus sabina ‘Broadmoor’ is a very low-growing prostrate shrub with soft and rich green leaves on spreading branches – Image via Nature Hills
- Skandia Juniper Juniperus sabina ‘Skandia’ is a low-growing, more procumbent than prostrate shrub that spreads somewhat with ascending branches of bright green feathery leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Sierra Spreader Juniper Juniperus sabina ‘Sierra Spreader’ is a low-growing shrub with upright but spreading spiky branches and rich green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Arcadia Juniper Juniperus sabina ‘Arcadia’ is a low-growing shrub that is more procumbent than prostrate with a compact spreading form with lacy rich green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Mini Arcade Juniper Juniperus sabina ‘Mini Arcade’ is a compact form of the Arcadia Juniper that is lower growing but more prostrate with the same lacy green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
15. Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis)
Chinese Juniper is a shrub to medium-sized tree with a pyramidal to open, broad and irregular crown, spreading branches, and grayish-brown bark.
Twigs are straight or slightly curved, rounded or four-sided, and slender at about 0.04”.
It has dimorphic leaves with awl-shaped leaves present when young and mature that are decussate or in whorls of three, loosely arranged, ascending, 0.24 – 0.5” long (sometimes shorter), and have two white stomatal bands on the upper surface.
Scale-like leaves appear when mature and are closely appressed, four-ranked (decussate), 0.06 – 0.12” long, and have elliptic glands that are slightly indented on their lower surface.
They’re dioecious (rarely monoecious) with usually glaucous brown, somewhat rounded seed cones that are 0.16 – 0.35” in diameter with 2 – 3(1 – 4) seeds per cone.
It is a popular garden and landscape ornamental with numerous cultivars available.
Other Common Names: Sargent Juniper
Identifying Features: Chinese Juniper’s pyramidal to open and irregular crown with spreading branches, twigs that are rounded to four-sided, dimorphic awl-shaped leaves with two white stomatal bands and scale-like leaves that are closely appressed with slightly indented elliptic glands on its lower surface, and its somewhat rounded usually glaucous seed cones with 1 – 4 seeds per cone will identify it. It is mostly confused with the Chinese Arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis), but that one only has scale-like leaves when mature, and its seed cones have very prominent hooked umbos.
Native Area: China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Himalayas, Russian Far East
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 60 ft (to 82 ft) tall, 15 – 20 ft spread
Some of the Cultivars Available (Left to Right):
- Spartan Juniper Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan‘ is a medium-sized uniformly columnar tree with dense dark green leaves. It can also be pruned into a hedge, topiary, etc – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Gold Lace Juniper Juniperus chinensis ‘Gold Lace‘ is a medium shrub with a spreading habit and rich green feathery leaves that turn gold as it matures – Image via Nature Hills
- Blue Point Juniper Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point’ is a small, broadly pyramidal shrub or tree with vibrant blue-green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Blaauw Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis ‘Blaauw’ is a unique tall shrub with a columnar habit and erect ascending branches of blue-green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Green Columnar Juniper Juniperus chinensis ‘Hetzii Columnaris’ is a tall shrub with a strongly pyramidal habit and rich dark green leaves that always retain their color – Image via Nature Hills
- Golden Pfitzer Juniper Juniperus chinensis ‘Pfitzeriana Aurea’ is a medium-sized prostrate to decumbent shrub that spreads to five times wider than tall with green and gold leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Hollywood Juniper Tree Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka‘ is a large shrub or small tree with a naturally twisted, upright spiraling habit and blue-green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Daub’s Frosted Juniper Juniperus chinensis ‘Daub’s Frosted’ is a low-growing prostrate shrub with bright gold leaves that mature to blue-green – Image via Nature Hills
- Saybrook Gold Juniper Juniperus chinensis ‘Saybrook Gold’ is a compact medium-sized shrub with spreading arching branches of bright golden leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Green Sargent Juniper Juniperus chinensis sargentii ‘Viridis’ is a low prostrate shrub with thick spreading branches of vibrant dark green leaves that retain their color – Image via Nature Hills
16. Pfitzer Juniper (Juniperus x pfitzeriana)
Pfitzer Juniper is a hybrid of the Chinese Juniper and Savin Juniper.
The story has it that our cultivars result from the collection of seeds in the 1860s thought to be from Juniperus chinensis and Juniperus sabina. The notes were subsequently lost, and the seeds ended up in a herbarium as Juniperus chinensis var pendula but were later discovered to be a hybrid of the two original strains.
It appears to be seldom found naturally in the wild, even though the original seeds were.
It is a shrub or small shrubby tree with a broad flat crown and ascending to spreading branches.
It has dimorphic leaves with awl-shaped leaves in alternating pairs or whorls of three without a joint, plus mostly scale-like leaves in colors of green, blue-green, or yellow-green.
It is dioecious, and most cultivated plants tend to be males producing pollen cones only.
Other Common Names: None
Identifying Features: Pfitzer Juniper is a hybrid of the Chinese and Savin Junipers, and as a result, it possesses characteristics that are intermediate between the two parent strains. To differentiate it from its parents, its twigs are coarser than Savin Juniper and are nodding at the tips. Compared to the Chinese Juniper, it is much smaller, never really reaching the height of a tree, and its leaves are much more variable in color.
Native Area: Northwestern China
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 3 – 6 ft (to 10 ft) tall, 3 – 18 ft spread
Some of the Cultivars Available (Left to Right):
- Sea Green Juniper Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’ is a medium-sized shrub with wide-spreading stems that descend slightly at their tips and lush soft green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Old Gold Juniper Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Old Gold’ is a low-growing compact procumbent shrub with a unique blend of green, yellowish, and gold leaves – Image via Nature Hills
- Kallays Compact Juniper Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Kallays Compact’ is a low procumbent shrub with spreading branches and soft bright green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
17. Greek Juniper (Juniperus excelsa)
Greek Junipers are usually single-stemmed trees with broadly pyramidal crowns that mature to broad and irregular. They are often shrubby and prostrate at high elevations.
The bark is smooth, then flaky, and finally reddish-brown and fibrous when mature.
Twigs are very slender (less than 1 mm), four-sided to rounded, and numerous.
They are occasionally dimorphic, retaining awl-shaped leaves on shaded branches that are 0.3 – 0.4” long and sharp-pointed.
Scale-like leaves are light to yellowish-green, decussate, overlapping, appressed to free at the incurved tip, decurrent at the base with large conspicuous and often resinous elliptic to circular glands. They have stomata mostly in two inconspicuous lines tapering from the base to the tip.
Seed cones are sessile (stalk-less), 0.4” rounded, purplish-green to blue, often glaucous, resinous becoming more woody and yellowish inside when mature, and have small protruding umbos and 3 – 6(2 – 8) seeds per cone.
Other Common Names: Grecian Juniper, Pencil Cedar, Crimean Juniper, Ardiç, Boylu Ardiç
Identifying Features: Greek Juniper’s sessile 0.4” rounded, purplish-green to blue, often glaucous seed cones that are somewhat woody and yellowish inside and have small protruding umbos make it easy to identify. It is usually a single-stemmed tree with a broad irregular crown and fibrous reddish-brown bark, very slender four-sided to rounded twigs, sometimes dimorphic leaves, scale-like light green to yellowish-green leaves that are overlapping, appressed or free at the incurved tips, with large and often resinous elliptic to circular glands.
Native Area: Eastern Mediterranean in northeastern Greece and southern Bulgaria through Turkey to Syria, Lebanon, plus the Caucasus mountains
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 65 ft tall, 10 – 30 ft spread
18. Flaky Juniper (Juniperus squamata)
Flaky Junipers are erect or procumbent shrubs to small trees with ascending or horizontally spreading branches and dense twigs that are usually short and may be straight or curved.
Leaves are narrowly awl-shaped to needle-like, spreading or ascending, and arranged in six ranks in alternating whorls of three. They never develop any scale-like leaves.
Leaves are straight or slightly curved, sometimes nearly appressed, 0.2 – 0.4” long (sometimes less), narrow (0.06” or less), and slightly concave on the upper surface with white stomatal bands. They have obtusely keeled ridges with longitudinal, thin grooves on the lower surface, decurrent bases that are not jointed, and acute or sharp-pointed tips.
They are mostly dioecious (occasionally monoecious) with seed cones that are glossy black or bluish-black, not usually glaucous, egg-shaped to somewhat rounded, 0.16 – 0.32”, and have one seed per cone.
Other Common Names: Himalayan Juniper, Nepalese Juniper, Eastern Savin, Oneseed Juniper, Gao Shan Bai (Chinese), Padma Chunder (Hindi)
Identifying Features: Flaky Juniper can often be identified by its awl-shaped leaves in six ranks in alternating whorls of three and its black or bluish-black egg-shaped to somewhat rounded 0.16 – 0.32” seed cones that are not glaucous and have only one seed per cone. It can be confused with Common Juniper, which is also often shrubby but with more strongly awl-shaped leaves with jointed and decurrent bases and cones that are typically glaucous, larger (0.24 – 0.51”), and have three seeds per cone.
Native Area: Mountainous areas from Afghanistan east through China and Taiwan
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 1 – 3 ft high, 2 – 6 ft spread
Some of the Cultivars Available (Left to Right):
- Blue Star Juniper Shrub Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ is a low-growing, somewhat prostrate shrub with vibrant medium blue-green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Parson’s Juniper Juniperus squamata expansa ‘Parsonii’ is a low-growing, somewhat prostrate shrub with lush, vibrant green to blue-green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Blue Star Juniper Tree Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ is an upright tree-like version of the Blue Star Shrub with the same vibrant blue-green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
19. Syrian Juniper (Juniperus drupacea)
Syrian Juniper is the tallest juniper species worldwide, growing up to 165 ft tall. However, it usually remains a medium-sized tree in most growing conditions.
It has a conical crown, spreading or ascending branches, and thick brown-gray fibrous bark.
Twigs are three-sided with prominent ridges.
Leaves are awl-shaped even when mature. They are in whorls of three, horizontally spreading, tough, quite long at 0.6 – 1”, and they have a shallow channel and two white stomatal bands on the upper surface while the lower surface is green and sometimes glaucous.
It is a dioecious plant with the largest rounded to egg-shaped seed cones in the genus at 0.6 – 1” in diameter. They are green with a waxy bloom, becoming blue-violet to brown and glaucous when mature with three seeds that are fused together into a nut about 0.4” long.
Other Common Names: Enek/andiz, Büyük meyveli ardiç
Identifying Features: Syrian Juniper has many unique features that make it easy to identify and very hard to mistake for other junipers. This includes its often tall size, thick brown-gray fibrous bark, three-sided ridged twigs, awl-shaped 0.6 – 1” leaves in whorls of three, and female trees with very large 0.6 – 1” diameter seed cones that are glaucous blue-violet to brown when ripe with three seeds per cone that are fused into a 0.4” long nut.
Native Area: Eastern Mediterranean in southern Greece, southern Turkey, western Syria, Lebanon
USDA Growing Zones: 7 (6 with protection) – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 50 ft (to 165 ft) tall, 6 – 15 ft spread
20. Temple Juniper (Juniperus rigida)
Temple Juniper is an erect shrub or small tree with a pyramidal or cylindrical crown, ascending branches, and pendulous, three-sided twigs that give it a graceful weeping appearance, especially on older trees.
It has relatively long 0.4 – 1” awl-shaped leaves in whorls of three and never develops scale-like leaves. The leaves are green on the lower surface, thick and strongly V-shaped in cross-section with a deep groove and a single white stomatal band on the upper surface, a jointed base that is not decurrent, and a very sharp-pointed tip.
They are dioecious trees, with the male trees having ellipsoid to somewhat rounded 0.12 – 0.2” pollen cones, typically found in whorls of three.
Female trees produce typically glaucous light brownish-blue or bluish-black, 0.24 – 0.32” rounded seed cones, with three seeds per cone.
Other Common Names: Needle Juniper
Identifying Features: Temple Juniper’s pyramidal to conical crown with pendulous, three-sided twigs that give it a unique weeping appearance, combined with its awl-shaped leaves in whorls of three that are thick, deeply keeled and grooved, and have a single white stomatal band on the upper surface, a jointed base that is not decurrent, and a sharp pointed tip will identify it. This is similar to the Formosan Juniper, which has thinner awl-shaped leaves with a shallower channel on the upper surface. It’s sometimes confused with Common Juniper, but that one usually has shorter leaves (0.71” or less) that are not as thick, often larger seed cones (up to 0.51”), and pollen cones that are not in whorls of three.
Native Area: Northern China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, far southeast of Russia
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 20 ft (to 35 ft) tall, 5 – 10 ft spread
21. Shore Juniper (Juniperus rigida var conferta)
Shore Juniper is often called Juniperus conferta, but plant authorities now recognize it not as a distinct species but as a shrubby botanical variant of the Temple Juniper. The epithet conferta means crowded, referring to the leaves.
It is a decumbent, bushy shrub never reaching more than 18” tall but spreading up to 8 ft wide, with branches that ascend at their tips.
It has erect twigs covered with crowded, overlapping, awl-shaped leaves in whorls of three. They’re 0.24 – 0.6”, with jointed bases that aren’t decurrent, a sharp-pointed prickly tip, and upper surfaces that are deeply grooved with one white stomatal band. Leaves may turn bronze-green or yellow-green in winter.
Seed cones are short-stalked with stalks covered with small scale-like leaves. They are rounded, purple-black, less than ½” in diameter, and contain three seeds per cone.
It will tolerate full sun or partial shade in most conditions.
Other Common Names: Blue Pacific Juniper
Identifying Features: Shore Juniper is a low-growing bushy decumbent shrub with wide-spreading branches that ascend at their tips, crowded, overlapping awl-shaped leaves in dense whorls of three with sharp-pointed tips, a single thick white stomatal band above, and short-stalked seed cones that are rounded, purple-black, less than ½”, and contain three seeds per cone. It could be confused with Common Juniper, but their decumbent forms are generally taller, and their leaves are decurrent at their jointed bases and are not as deeply grooved or as crowded on the twigs.
Native Area: Coastal areas of Japan and Sakhalin Island, Russia
USDA Growing Zones: 6 (5 with protection) – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 18” tall, 6 – 8 ft spread
Some of the Cultivars Available:
22. Formosan Juniper (Juniperus formosana)
The Formosan Juniper is a large shrub to medium-sized tree with brown bark, a pyramidal to cylindrical crown, spreading or ascending branches, and three-sided pendulous twigs that give it a weeping appearance.
It has awl-shaped to nearly needle-like 0.5 – 0.8” leaves in whorls of three with a shallow channel on the upper surface and two broad white stomatal bands separated by a narrow green midvein. The lower surface is green and shallowly keeled, the base is jointed and not decurrent, and the tip is sharp-pointed.
They are dioecious trees, with male trees having rounded to ellipsoid 0.16 – 0.24” pollen cones, typically in whorls of three.
Female trees have light reddish-brown seed cones that may or may not be glaucous, are broadly egg-shaped to somewhat rounded, 0.24 – 0.35” in diameter, and have three seeds per cone.
Other Common Names: Chinese Prickly Juniper, Prickly Cypress
Identifying Features: The Formosan Juniper is similar to Temple Juniper with its pendulous three-sided twigs, but its crown is pyramidal to conical, and its awl-shaped leaves are a little shorter at 0.5 – 0.8”, much thinner with a shallow channel and keel and have two broad white stomatal bands separated by a green midvein on the upper surface. It also has slightly smaller, usually more rounded pollen cones, and its seed cones are light reddish-brown instead of light brownish-blue or bluish-black. It is sometimes confused with Flaky Juniper, but that one glossy black seed cones with only one seed per cone.
Native Area: China, Taiwan
USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 50 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
23. Japanese Garden Juniper (Juniperus procumbens)
Japanese Garden Juniper is a popular garden shrub that is procumbent, never reaching more than 2.5 ft tall, with elongated creeping branches and leading shoots and twigs that are ascending.
Leaves are in whorls of three and are slightly keeled with a shallow groove in the upper surface and may appear needle-like or awl-shaped. They are unequal in length, from 0.24 – 0.3” long, rigid, with two white stomatal bands on the upper surface, a decurrent base, and a sharp-pointed tip. Occasionally, potted specimens may develop scale-like leaves.
It is a dioecious shrub, and sometimes the pollen cones are not even seen on mature male specimens, but when seen, they are small and terminal.
Seed cones are glaucous black when mature, somewhat rounded, 0.31 – 0.35” in diameter, and each has 2 – 3 seeds per cone.
It is quite popular among bonsai tree enthusiasts.
Other Common Names: Procumbent Juniper, Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper, Bonin Island Juniper, Ibuki Juniper, Creeping Juniper
Identifying Features: Japanese Garden Juniper is a low-growing procumbent shrub with long creeping branches with leading shoots and twigs that are ascending. It has awl-shaped to needle-like leaves with only a shallow channel and shallow keel, two white stomatal bands on the upper surface, and glaucous black 0.31 – 0.35” somewhat rounded seed cones with 2 – 3 seeds per cone. It is mostly mistaken for Common Juniper, which has more strongly awl-shaped leaves with a deeper channel and only a single median white stomatal band on the upper surface.
Native Area: Disputed, either endemic to high mountains on a few islands off southern Japan or native to the coasts of southern Japan and southern and western coasts of Korea
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 0.5 – 1.5 (to 2.5 ft) tall, 2 – 6 ft (to 15 ft) spread
Some of the Cultivars Available (Left to Right):
- Green Mound Juniper Topiary Juniperus procumbens ‘Green Mound’ is a delightful dwarf topiary version with textured blue-green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Green Mound Juniper Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ is a low-growing, somewhat prostrate shrub with low spreading branches of bright green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
24. Canary Islands Juniper (Juniperus cedrus)
The Canary Island Juniper is a large shrub to medium-sized tree with orange-brown fibrous bark, horizontal branches with ascending tips, and pendulous twigs.
Historically, trees would reach 100 ft tall, but trees that large are never seen anymore. High in the mountains, they remain as shrubs.
Its leaves are awl-shaped to needle-like, 0.4 – 0.8” long, in decussate whorls of three. They’re green and sometimes glaucous on the lower surface, with two white stomatal bands separated by a green midrib on the upper surface.
They are usually dioecious, with orange-red rounded, 0.3 – 0.6” diameter seed cones with a pinkish glaucous coating. Each contains three seeds.
Its native population is Endangered, and its population is decreasing, with only 600 individuals left in the wild. It was decimated by historical felling for its valuable lumber and subsequent overgrazing by feral goats, significantly reducing its ability to regenerate.
Other Common Names: Cedro Canario
Identifying Features: The Canary Island Juniper is a large shrub or tree with orange-brown bark, orange-red 0.3 – 0.6” seed cones with a pinkish glaucous coating, and pendulous twigs that make it hard to mistake this for other junipers. Other important identifying features include its horizontal branches with ascending tips and its awl-shaped to needle-like leaves with two white stomatal bands separated by a green midrib.
Native Area: Western Canary Islands from near sea level to 7545 ft
USDA Growing Zones: 9 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 65 ft (to 100 ft), 10 – 20 ft spread
25. African Juniper (Juniperus procera)
African Juniper is a very tall juniper with a single-stemmed (rarely muti-stemmed) trunk and a high pyramidal crown maturing to broad, irregular, open, domed, or sometimes flat-topped in windy sites.
The bark is smooth, becoming papery, purplish, and flaky and eventually becoming pale brown to gray-brown and fibrous with deep longitudinal grooves when mature.
Twigs are slender, four-sided, and sometimes pinnately arranged.
Mature leaves are scale-like, decussate, overlapping, appressed at the base only, and incurved and free at the tips. They are light green or yellowish-green and have conspicuous linear-elliptic glands with a resin cavity in each leaf.
Seed cones are rounded, 0.12 – 0.28”, sessile or short-stalked, glaucous brown, purplish-black, or bluish, with minute triangular umbos, somewhat woody and yellowish inside, with 2 – 3(1 – 4) seeds per cone.
This is the southernmost juniper in the world, found naturally at 10° south in Malawi, southeast Africa.
Other Common Names: African Pencil Cedar, East African Juniper, East African Cedar, Kenya Cedar
Identifying Features: African Juniper’s free, incurved scale-like leaf tips on the light green to yellow-green overlapping scale-like leaves combined with its slightly woody and often sessile rounded 0.12 – 0.28” glaucous seed cones with minute triangular umbos and 1 – 4 seeds make it hard to mistake this for other junipers. Other factors that will help identify it are its usually tall, straight single trunk and its deeply grooved fibrous gray-brown bark when mature.
Native Area: Mountainous areas of eastern Africa and the southwestern Arabian Peninsula
USDA Growing Zones: 9 (8 with protection) – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 100 ft (to 132 ft) tall, 20 – 40 ft spread
Growing Juniper Trees or Shrubs in Your Garden
Growing tenacious junipers in your garden is a great choice because, once established, they are very low maintenance, drought tolerant, and provide year-round color and structure to any landscape.
Despite their often ease of growing, it is still always important to do some research before planting any tree or shrub in your garden.
You will need to understand the USDA Planting Zones and choose the right one for your climate.
Many junipers are adapted to warm temperate or hot and arid climates and are incredibly heat and drought-tolerant. These ones tend to do poorly in USDA zones less than 6.
Yet other junipers are very cold-tolerant and do well in climates down to USDA zone 2 but will do poorly in zones greater than 6.
You must also check your chosen tree’s soil, light, and moisture requirements and compare that to your site. Check out How to Pick A Tree For Your Yard for more information on choosing the right tree for the right spot in your yard.
Most junipers prefer growing in full sun, but a few species will tolerate partial (but not full) shade.
Junipers tend to tolerate any soil type from acidic to alkaline, but mildly acidic to neutral is the most ideal for most species.
All junipers tend to do best in drier soils with good drainage. A few will tolerate wetter soils, but none will do well in consistently wet or soggy soils.
Junipers can host cedar-apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) that makes its home on juniper trees (especially Eastern Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana) and then transfers to apples, crabapples, hawthorn, and quince, damaging them. So if you have an apple orchard, junipers are not a great choice for your yard.
Finally, while juniper populations worldwide are doing well for the most part, and they tend to have low invasive potential, you should always try to choose species native to your area, or at least their cultivars, to enhance biodiversity and wildlife values there.
However, none of the non-native species above have been reported as having escaped cultivation and become invasive anywhere in North America at this time.
The only invasive issues are our own native junipers that are invading grasslands due mostly to direct human influences of fire suppression and overgrazing by our farm animals, as well as climate change (indirect human influence).
This invasive problem can easily be controlled with better land use management practices as well as controlled burning. Controlled burning is great for regenerating any fire ecology system like grasslands. It puts nutrients back in the soil, removes unwanted species, and creates openings for native fire-adapted grasses and wildflowers to thrive.
Joyful and Tenacious Juniper Trees
Junipers are beautiful and often very tenacious trees that can live for hundreds, even thousands of years. They are the fourth longest-living tree species in the world. The oldest juniper in the USA (possibly the world) is the Bennett Juniper, a Juniperus grandis from California, which is confirmed to be around 3000 years old and is 78 ft tall with a crown spread of 56 ft.
Junipers form the highest known coniferous forests on the Tibetan Plateau at just over 16,000 ft.
Monoecious junipers are known to have very high allergic potential. Completely male junipers release plenty of pollen that may cause contact dermatitis if touched or cause irritation in the lungs if airborne on a windy day. Completely female plants, on the other hand, have a very low allergic potential and may help fight allergens. Fortunately, most junipers are dioecious.
Juniper trees have a wide range of uses. Their wood is very strong and durable, making the tree forms ideal for construction. Sadly, this has historically led to the decimation of most large junipers in some parts of the world.
The wood of large shrubs is often used for fenceposts as well as closets, boxes, and furniture, where it is often simply called ‘cedar wood.’
Juniper oil is used in various products, including perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, and insect repellents.
Juniper is used medicinally for digestion, inflammation (internally and externally, diabetes, and weight loss.
Juniper berries (seed cones) are high in antioxidants and vitamins A and C. Native peoples used juniper ash as a source of calcium.
Juniper is also used in various folklore and traditions to cleanse, bless and protect a household and its inhabitants.
Juniper Berries as Food Including Recipes
Juniper berries (seed cones) are sometimes eaten fresh, particularly California Juniper and Red Berry Juniper. Those species are sweeter than most other junipers, which, while edible, tend to be fairly bitter.
Any juniper berries, but particularly Common Juniper, are used to flavor meats, sauces, and drinks, including being the primary flavoring of gin alcohol. Juniper berries were also the traditional bitters added to sahti-style Finnish beers that are also traditionally filtered through juniper twigs.
The following is a juniper seasoning blend I often make. Simply grind all the ingredients in a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, you can quadruple the batch and put it in a coffee grinder for a finer grind and for extras to share with friends!
Then use it to season sauces, soups, and veggies. It is particularly popular among meat-eaters who love to use it with any type of wild game and also with beef or pork. Here it is:
Lyrae’s Juniper Seasoning
2 tsp whole dried juniper berries
1 tsp coarse Himalayan salt
1 tsp onion granules or powder
1 tsp garlic granules or powder
1 tsp whole black or mixed peppercorns
1 – 2 tsp whole dried rosemary (optional – I just really like rosemary, reduce if using powder)
½ tsp cayenne or red chili flakes (also optional if you like some heat, increase for more heat)
Finally, juniper berries are a popular source of wild yeast. While many sources on the internet claim the glaucous coating on them is wild yeast, it is not. This is simply popular misinformation being regurgitated by those who do not check their facts. The glaucous coating is an epicuticular wax secreted by the plant itself. However, juniper berries do contain abundant wild yeasts and make an excellent sourdough starter that can be used for traditional or grain-free sourdough breads as well as beer, wine, or mead-making.
Simple Juniper Wild Yeast Sourdough or Homebrew Starter
1 part cane sugar or flour of your choice**
1 part freshly-picked juniper berries (seed cones – fresh is always best to get the liveliest yeast)
3 parts of clean, purified water
**if using for homebrewing, use sugar, not flour, in your starter. If using it for bread, then flour is fine. If you make grain-free bread as I do, I prefer sugar to start because my grain-free flours tend not to feed the yeast as well, but then once it’s going, I keep it going with a mix of sugar and my grain-free flours.
Now, mix your three simple ingredients in a clean mason jar and cover it with a cheesecloth or some other breathable cover. Then either wrap the jar in a cloth and put it on your fridge or tuck it away in a warm dark place. Either way, keep it warm, protect it from direct light, and be sure to swirl the jar a few times a day to stir it and aerate it. After a week or so, it should get frothy and bubbly.
If it is slow, then it may not be warm enough, or you may not have a good batch. Being a wild yeast, sometimes you get ones that are “off” and simply do not ferment as well or get some unpleasant yeast strain or bacteria in there that gives it a foul aroma. If that happens, simply toss it in your compost (your compost will love it!) and start again!
Junipers also provide important wildlife values, including food, cover, shelter, and nesting sites for birds, deer, elk, squirrels, bears, and more. They are especially critical in environments where junipers may be the only tree or shrub capable of growing there.
Junipers are also important for numerous insects and invertebrates. They are the exclusive food plant of a few Lepidoptera species (butterflies and moths) and are an additional food source for numerous others.
Now that you know how to identify junipers, you can go out and identify the junipers around you. And, just maybe, go out and collect some delicious seed cones (berries) to use in your kitchen today!
If you do harvest any wild plant materials, please always follow the principles of ethical wildcrafting to ensure there is plenty left for plant reproduction, wildlife, as well as other humans to enjoy!
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Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences.
Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees.
She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing.
When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.