Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Coniferophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Juniperus
Juniperus ashei
Juniperus californica
Juniperus chinensis
Juniperus coahuilensis
Juniperus communis
Juniperus conferta
Juniperus deppeana
Juniperus × fassettii
Juniperus flaccida
Juniperus horizontalis
Juniperus monosperma
Juniperus occidentalis
Juniperus osteosperma
Juniperus pinchotii
Juniperus sabina
Juniperus scopulorum
Juniperus virginiana
and many more
Ref.: ITIS 18047

A juniper is a coniferous plant in the Genus Juniperus of the Family Cupressaceae. There are about 50 species of junipers, widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere to tropical Africa. These vary in size and shape from tall columnar forms to low cones or spreading platter-like shrubs with long trailing branches. Junipers are monoecious or dioecious trees or shrubs with either needle-like or scale-like leaves, female cones with fleshy, coalescing scales (see below), and unwinged, hard seeds. Some are misleadingly called cedars, the common name for species in the Genus Cedrus. A number of species (such as J. chinensis from East Asia) are used in landscaping and horticulture.

Junipers have distinctive false-fruits: small cones in which the waxy scales fuse together to form a fleshy "berry-like" structure. In some species these "berries" are red-brown or orange but in most they are blue and very aromatic. Some junipers are peculiar in that they have two types of evergreen leaves. Seedlings and the young twigs of older trees have small needle-like leaves. Most of the branches on mature plants are covered with tiny overlapping scale-like leaves. Junipers are susceptible to Gymnosporangium disease.

  • Best known in North America is the Eastern Juniper (Juniperus virginiana), often called Eastern Red Cedar and found from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, east of the Great Plains. It is a dense slow-growing tree that may never become more than a bush on poor soil but is ordinarily from 6 to 15m (20 to 50 feet) tall with a short trunk from 30-60cm (one to two feet) in diameter. On bottomlands in southern states of the USA, it may live to be 300 years old, more than 30 m (100 ft) tall, and more than 120 cm (four feet) in diameter. Its sky blue berries are used to flavor gin and as kidney medicine. They furnish winter food for wildlife and the tiny wingless seeds are scattered by birds. This species is a host for Apple rust.

The red cedar's fine-grained brittle wood -- pinkish red to brownish red, surrounded by a thin layer of white sapwood -- is very fragrant, very light and very durable in soil. It is in great demand for pencils, cigar boxes, fence posts, poles, woodenware, canoes, and lining for clothes chests and closets. Moths avoid it. Cedar oil is distilled from the twigs and leaves. Because of its shreddy reddish bark, which peels off in narrow fibrous strips, French traders named Baton Rouge, Louisiana (meaning "red stick") after poles of Eastern Juniper set up in the area by local Indians to mark hunting territiories.

  • The Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) is a smaller tree, very variable and more likely to be a low spreading shrub. It ranges from the Arctic to Pennsylvania, Illinois, and into the Rockies, as well as northern Europe and Asia.

  • The Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) and the Sierra Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) can be found in the western United States.

  • In the southwest United States there are four species, including the burly Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) with its thick bark checkered into scaly squares. Many of the earliest prehistoric people lived in or near the pinyon pine and juniper forests which furnished them food, fuel, and wood for shelter or utensils.

  • Millions of acres in Texas are covered by Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei) (better known in the area as Mountain Cedar). This drought-tolerant evergreen grows up to 9m (30 ft) and provides erosion control and year-round shade for livestock and wildlife. The wood is naturally rot resistant and provides raw material for fence posts. Unfortunately, from December through February, the male tree is the source of obnoxious pollen that causes a severe allergic reaction for some. The locals fondly refer to the allergy as "cedar fever."