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The junipers are trees in the genus Juniperus of the conifer family Cupressaceae.

Junipers have distinctive fruits: small cones in which the waxy scales are fused together to form a fleshy "berry". On some species these berries are red-brown or orange but on most they are blue and very aromatic. Junipers are also 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 trees are covered with tiny overlapping scale-like leaves.

There are about 40 species of junipers, widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere. Some of these vary in size and shape from tall columnar forms to low cones or spreading platter-like shrubs with long trailing branches.

Best known in North America is the Eastern Juniper Juniperus virginiana, often misleadingly called Eastern Red Cedar, 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 30m (100 feet) tall, and more than 120cm (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.

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, the French called it baton rouge, meaning "red stick".

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 through 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.

Source: Argonne National Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy) (http://newton.dep.anl.gov/natbltn/300-399/nb362.htm)

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