Juniperus communis

Common Juniper

Juniperus communis, Common Juniper

Common Juniper, Kawishiwi River, BWCAW
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Juniperus, from the Latin, "juniper"
  • communis, from the Latin, "common "
  • Common Name, from its near global distribution
  • Other common names include Dwarf Juniper, Mountain Common Juniper, Old Field Common Juniper, Prostrate Juniper, En (Swe)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Coniferophyta, the Conifers
      • Class Pinopsida
        • Order Pinales
          • Family Cupressaceae, the Cypress, with Chamaecyparis (False Cypress), and Thuja (Arborvitae).
            • Genus Juniperus, the Junipers
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 194820
  • Also known as Juniperus sibirica, Juniperus nana


  • Coniferous shrub or columnar tree. Throughout most of North America, grows as a low, mat-forming shrub 2'-5' tall and 7'-13' across. In parts of New England occasionally to 25 ' tall, A treelike form is common in Europe.
  • Leaves simple, stiff and arranged in whorls of three with pungent odor. Younger leaves tend to be more needlelike whereas mature leaves are scalelike.
  • Twigs yellowish or green when young, turn brown and harden with age.
  • Bark thin, shreddy or scaly, often exfoliating into thin strips.
  • Fruits berrylike; red, ripening to a glaucous blueblack.


  • The only juniper native to the North Woods.


  • Alaska to Newfoundland,
  • Perhaps the most widely distributed tree in the world, circumboreal across North America, Europe, northern Asia and Japan. In North America beyond the tree limit, from Alaska to Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland, south through New England to the Carolinas and west through NE Illinois, Indiana, northern Ohio, Minnesota, and Nebraska to the western montains of Washington, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Widespread throughout Europe with the exception of certain Mediterranean lowlands, arctic, and subarctic regions.


  • Typically dry, rocky, wooded hillsides or exposed slopes.
  • A variety of soil types including acidic and calcareous sands, loams, or marls.


  • Generally killed or seriously damaged by fire. Very light fires may, however, have relatively little effect, the amount of damage increasing with increasing fire intensity.
  • Does not sprout after disturbance, reestablishing after fire primarily through off-site seed dispersed by birds or mammals, and by on-site seed if available. It is probable that seed protected by overlying layers of soil can survive at least some fires. Common juniper typically produces an abundance of long-viability seed, and after low-intensity fires, some seed may germinate.
  • A relatively long germination period and relatively poor germination rates contribute to slow postfire reestablishment on many sites.



  • Used by Great Basin Indians as a blood tonic. Native Americans from the Pacific Northwest used tonics made from the branches to treat colds, flu, arthritis, muscle aches, and kidney problems. Indigenous peoples from Eurasia made tonics for kidney and stomach ailments and rheumatism. Common juniper extract, which can be fatal in even fairly small amounts, was used to make gin and as a meat preservative.


  • Wood fine grained, durable, and reddish with white sapwood; currently of no commerical value.
  • Source of the berries that give gin its distinctive flavor.


  • Dioecious but occasionally monoecious.
  • Seed usually matures during the second growing season. Germination rates are relatively poor. Defective seed may also be relatively common
  • Produces large fruit crops at irregular intervals. Fruits are ovoid to ellipsoid and contain one to three seeds. Fruit generally remains on the plant for at least 2 years, with dispersal in August of the second season.
  • Seed dispersal by gravity, water, birds, or mammals. Digestive processes apparently do not harm most juniper seeds and may actually enhance germination. Birds are the most important dispersal agents.


  • By seed.
  • Seed of most juniper requires a specific period of rest and after ripening. Generally the germination rate of seeds that are not afterripened is only around 1%. High temperatures, alternating temperatures, freezing and thawing, removal of the seedcoat, or the application of hydrogen perioxide, dilute acids, carbon dioxide, or light had little influence on the germination of juniper seeds. Juniper seeds have a semipermeable and thick seed coat with a dormant embryo. The seed of common juniper requires a long germination period.


  • Cultivars include
    • 'Golden Schnapps', with yellow green foliage
    • 'Gold Cone', a columnar form with yellow green foliage
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries
  • Highly valued as an ornamental, it provides good ground cover even on stony or sandy sites. First cultivated in 1560.
  • Best results obtained with bareroot stock planted during late April. Attempts at hand seeding under greenhouse conditions largely unsuccessful.



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Last updated on 7 March, 2006