Juniperus communis (Common Juniper)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Cupressaceae (Cypress)
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct

[photo of male strobili] 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.

[photo of female strolili] Female strobili appear as yellowish-green, scaly oval buds, about 1/8 inch long, with a single style barely emerging from the center.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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.

[photo of trunk] 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: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] 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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More photos

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?

Posted by: Kent S - Ottertail county
on: 2017-03-19 18:54:33

Grows in some profusion 5 miles to the east of the city of Ottertail though it seems rare outside of this area. The plants appear to be old and possibly the remnant of a much earlier vegetation mix. Impressive and a unique sub-population.

Posted by: Ann L - Todd County
on: 2017-04-15 21:01:10

I have seen this plant, or what I believe to be this plant, in Todd County. But it is growing in a swampy, bog area. Is there another tree that looks similiar that grows in wetlands? It is growing among tamaracks and marsh marigolds.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-04-16 07:57:32

Ann, check the advanced search for evergreen trees and shrubs that grow in wetlands. Maybe you will see it there.

Posted by: Ann L - Todd County
on: 2017-04-29 15:54:06

I have double checked, went back out in the tamarack swamp, and sure enough, it is Common Juniper. Why it is there I am not sure, but I have also found it in the area, growing on much dryer soil, where it seems to belong. There are about a half dozen of these in the wet ground. In Todd County.

Posted by: Karen K - Stowe Prairie Township, Todd County
on: 2017-06-02 17:47:25

I first noted juniper in this area about thirty-five years ago. Since then, the original plants, some excedeeing twenty feet in diameter, have started to seed and spread throughout an area on a hillside adjacent to a lowland. The top soil was removed from this area fifty years ago, and juniper was one of the first woody plants to re-inhabit, helping to slow erosion.

Posted by: Mike K - Minneapolis
on: 2017-08-12 15:07:29

I'm pretty sure two of these just started to grow in my yard. I welcome them though they are prickly! Oddly they are in a very shady area but things I read say they prefer sun?

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