Juniperus communis (Common Juniper)
|Also known as:|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||sun; dry, sandy or rocky soil; prairies, savanna, forest clearings, rocky slopes, outcrops, dunes|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||2 to 5 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: UPL MW: UPL NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate shrubs in the leaf axils of 2nd year branches. Male strobili are oval-oblong, 1/10 to 1/8 inch long with yellowish brown scales holding the yellow pollen sacs.
Leaves and bark:
Leaves are in whorls of 3, spreading, not overlapping, needle-like but flattened, ¼ to ½ (<¾) inch long, darker green during growing season, becoming bronzy colored in late summer through winter, especially in drier weather. A whitish band of stomata (pores) in the center of the upper surface can give it a whitish (glaucous) cast. Leaves persist 3 to 4 years. New twigs are yellowish, becoming reddish-brown.
There is no central trunk but rather multiple spreading to ascending branches up to 7½ inches in diameter at their base, with thin, gray brown bark that becomes flaky or shredding with age. Prostrate stems can form vegetative roots when coming in contact with the soil, forming low mats.
Fruit is a round berry-like cone with a persistent whitish bloom, ¼ to 1/3 inch in diameter, and 3 exterior scales. Cones are yellow to green when immature and take 2 or 3 years to ripen to dark blue-black. Mature cones remain closed with 2 to 4 seeds inside.
Common Juniper has perhaps the largest geological range of any woody plant in the northern hemisphere; from the Arctic to higher elevations in North America as far south as Arizona and New Mexico and across Europe and Asia south to the Mediterranean and Nepal. Across such a vast area there are as many as 5 varieties (or subspecies) recognized by some, with numbers more of disputed subspecies, but the consensus is more study is needed to sort out this variable species. In some of its regional forms it grows as a small tree but the North American var. depressa found in Minnesota is a low, broadly spreading shrub that only occasionally exceeds 4 feet in height but can spread to 20 feet wide. This low growth habit, spreading leaves whorled in 3s, and berry-like fruit distinguish it from other evergreen shrubs. It is extremely drought tolerant, preferring open sandy fields and rock outcrops and will decline in a shade understory. Its bitter aromatic fruit has been used in cooking and for medicinal purposes but it is most noted as the flavoring for gin. For such a variable and hardy species, there are relatively few horticultural varieties and those are rarely found in landscapes, and even berries harvested for gin are still wild collected.
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- Common Juniper shrub in bronzy winter color
- Common Juniper shrub
- Common Juniper shrub
- Common Juniper savanna habitat
- immature fruit
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken Anoka, Houston and Lake counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?