Juniper trees and shrubs are in the genus Juniperus in the cypress (Cupressaceae) family. These evergreen conifers feature leaves that can either be like needles or scales, and most of the species change from needle form to scale form as they mature. Most junipers offer at least some level of drought resistance.
Many of the common names include the word cedar, though true cedars belong to the genus Cedrus.
Junipers may be monoecious or dioecious. While the female fruits appear to be berries, they are actually fused cones. The cones of the common juniper (Juniperus communis) provide the flavoring for gin. Juniper fruits are also used as a spice in cooking.
WARNING: Don't plant a juniper in your yard if there are apple trees in your yard or within a mile or two. There is a fungus called cedar-apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) which makes its home on juniper trees first, then transfers to apples, crabapples, hawthornes and quince, causing damage to both plants. The eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) is the usual host on the juniper side, though many of the other species are also susceptible to at least some degree.
1. Alligator Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus deppeana. Synonyms are Juniperus mexicana and Juniperus pachyphloea.
- Other Common Names: Checkerbark juniper, oak-barked juniper, thick-barked juniper, western juniper, mountain cedar
- Native to: Mexico and the Southwestern United States
- USDA Zones: 7 - 9
- Height: Can grow up to 60' tall; generally 20 - 40' tall.
The alligator juniper is named for its distinctive bark that resembles the rough, checkered skin of an alligator. This species can either be a shrub or tree depending on the growing location and conditions.
2. California Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus californica. Some also use Juniperus cedrosiana, Sabina californica, Juniperus pyriformis or Juniperus cerrosianus
- Other Common Names: Desert white cedar
- Native to: California, Baja California, Nevada, Arizona
- USDA Zones: 8 - 10
- Height: 10 - 15' tall; sometimes can be 35' or more
This juniper is usually found as a large shrub in the Southwest, though it can sometimes grow to be a medium-sized tree in the wild. It features scale-like leaves and reddish-brown cones.
3. Chinese Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus chinensis
- Native to: Japan and China
- USDA Zones: 4 - 9
- Height: The size varies greatly depending on the variety chosen. Many are groundcovers and shrubs.
One variety of the Chinese juniper ('Toruloso') is known as the Hollywood juniper. As it matures it creates an intriguing twisted form that works well as a specimen plant. There are many other varieties in different shapes and colors.
4. Common Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus communis
- Other Common Names: Dwarf juniper, prostrate juniper, mountain common juniper, old field common juniper, ground juniper, creeping juniper, carpet juniper
- Native to: North America, Europe, northern Asia, Japan
- USDA Zones: 3 - 8
- Height: The shrub usually matures to around 15' tall; it can sometimes reach 30' tall.
As the name suggests, this juniper shrub is commonly found throughout much of the world. It grows well in both alkaline and acidic soils, as well as adapting to many locations such as windy sites.
5. Creeping Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus horizontalis
- Other Common Names: Creeping cedar, trailing juniper, creeping Savin juniper
- Native to: Northern United States, Canada and Alaska
- USDA Zones: 3 - 9
- Height: 1 - 2' tall
The creeping juniper lives up to its name and works well as a groundcover. It is very adaptable and can handle many different soils and situations.
6. Drooping Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus flaccida. Juniperus gigantea, Juniperus gracilis and Sabina flaccida are also sometimes seen.
- Other Common Names: Mexican drooping juniper, weeping juniper, weeping cedar, drooping cedar, tascate
- Native to: Texas, Mexico and Guatemala
- USDA Zones: 8b - 11
- Height: Most trees peak at around 35-40' tall.
Drooping juniper gets its name because of the way that the branchlets droop down. The reddish-brown or grey bark shreds off in strips.
7. Eastern Redcedar
- Latin Name: Juniperus virginiana. Another name is Sabina virginiana.
- Other Common Names: Red cedar, red cedar juniper, red juniper, savin, Virginia juniper
- Native to: Eastern Canada, midwestern, southern and eastern United States, Oregon
- USDA Zones: 3 - 9
- Height: 30 - 40' tall
As mentioned above, this is the main host for cedar-apple rust disease. This juniper species is especially fragrant, and this quality is sometimes used to repel insects. Some also use this as a Christmas tree.
8. Greek Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus excelsa
- Other Common Names: Grecian juniper
- Native to: Eastern Mediterranean
- USDA Zones: 'Stricta' grows in 5 - 9
- Height: 20 - 65'+ tall
The Greek juniper is often found growing alongside the stinking juniper (Juniperus foetidissima). These hardy trees can even grow on the sides of rocky cliffs.
9. One-Seed Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus monosperma
- Other Common Names: Oneseed juniper, sabina, single-seeded juniper, cherrystone juniper, red berry juniper
- Native to: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico
- USDA Zones: 3 - 7
- Height: 10 - 40' tall, sometimes taller in the wild.
Although this plant's cone usually has one seed (inspiring the name), it can produce up to three once in a while. This is a common host for the juniper mistletoe (Phoradendron juniperinum).
10. Rocky Mountain Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus scopulorum
- Other Common Names: Mountain red cedar, Rocky Mountain cedar, Colorado redcedar
- Native to: Western Canada and United States, Nebraska, Texas and North Dakota
- USDA Zones: 3 - 8
- Height: 30 - 40' tall, though often more of a smaller shrub.
This is a close relative to the eastern redcedar and thus susceptible to the cedar-apple rust. The Rocky Mountain juniper usually grows in a pyramidal shape. 'Skyrocket' is an especially narrow type that is bluish-green.
11. Utah Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus osteosperma. Synonyms include Juniperus utahensis and Sabina osteosperma.
- Other Common Names: Bigberry juniper, desert juniper
- Native to: Western United States
- USDA Zones: 3 - 7
- Height: 10 - 25' tall
The city of Cedar City, UT and Cedar Breaks National Monument got their names because of these trees, which grow abundantly in Utah and do well in its alkaline soils. It is also the juniper that you are most likely to run into in Arizona, as well as finding it growing throughout the rest of the western United States.
12. Western Juniper
- Latin Name: Juniperus occidentalis
- Other Common Names: Sierra juniper
- Native to: California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington
- USDA Zones: 5 - 8
- Height: 15 - 30' tall
The western juniper provides food for a variety of wildlife throughout the year. The wood was used for many different tasks during the pioneer era.