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What is an Eastern Juniper Tree?

what-is-an-eastern-juniper-tree?

Learn more about Eastern Juniper Trees and how they are used today, the conditions upon which they thrive, the ways they reproduce, and the other types of juniper trees.

Juniperus Virginiana

Terminology

Trying to decipher the world of dendrology (tree science) can be difficult. Trees go by many names, and it is easy to mix them up. Juniperus virginiana is part of the genus juniperus and part of the supressaceae family (cypress).

However, eastern juniper trees also go by the names red juniper, and Virginian juniper. If all of that weren’t enough, they are also known as the red cedar tree, eastern red cedar tree, pencil cedar, and aromatic cedar, though they are not a true cedar or part of the genus cedrus (cedar).

For the purpose of this article, we will only refer to the eastern juniper tree like that.

Introduction

The eastern juniper is a slow-growing, coniferous evergreen tree that is native to the eastern side of North America, though there are other varieties and tree species that occur in various pockets all over North America.

Eastern junipers can be either shrubs or small trees, and they tend to be much smaller if they are growing in poor quality soils. They are very long-lived trees, and the oldest one on record was an estimated 940 years old!

They are valued for their edible berries, their attractive scent, as windbreak trees, and for their attractive quality of wood as well. Cedar essential oil is made from this species of tree, and certain parts of the tree have medicinal properties as well.

We also have an article detailing other types of junipers in 12 Different Types of Juniper Trees and Shrubs.

If you’re curious about other types of trees, head on over to 101 Types of Trees to learn more!

What do Eastern Juniper Trees Look Like?

Root System

Juniper trees have extensive root systems, which is a large part of the reason why they are such resilient and tolerant trees. Seedlings will first develop a very penetrating taproot. Most of their energy is put towards developing a stable root system, at the expense of the upper development of the tree.

Once a stable root system is established, they will begin to develop a more extensive and shallow root system as well. Seedlings that are just one year old will have a very dense, long, and fibrous maze of roots. Juniper trees are known for having root systems that are “deep, wide, and strong”.

Dimensions

Depending on the growing location of the tree, an eastern juniper can range anywhere from being ground cover, to a bush or juniper shrub, into a small to medium-sized tree.

When they grow in poor soils they will be a shrub that is only about 5 meters tall. When they grow in more ideal growing conditions, they can reach heights of 20 meters.

A small eastern juniper tree will have a trunk diameter ranging from about 12 inches to 40 inches, of course depending on the overall height and dimension of the tree.

Growth Pattern

When grown in the wild, eastern juniper trees have horizontal – slightly ascending – branches. They are covered with heavy foliage that creates a very robust crown. Crowns are roughly conical in shape, though that can vary.

When grown ornamentally, eastern juniper trees are usually shaped into a more clearly defined conical shape with a very wide and robust bottom, growing into a pointed tip.

Bark

Eastern juniper bark is a red/brown color that is quite fibrous in texture. Bark will peel off in narrow strips, regardless of the age of the tree.

Foliage

Eastern juniper leaves will vary, depending on the growth habits of young trees vs. mature trees. Leaves come in two types: juvenile leaf, and mature leaf.

Juvenile leaves are very sharp and needle-like. They are wide-spreading and have a slightly scaly texture. Young eastern juniper leaves will be a bright blue/green color.

Mature leaves come in a very tightly adpressed form and are also quite scale-like. They will be a slightly darker blue/green color.

Regardless of the age of the leaf, they will be an average of 1/2 an inch long. Both ages of leaves are also arranged in opposite decussate pairs, meaning that they intersect to form an X shape.

How do Eastern Juniper Trees Reproduce?

Cones

Juniper trees are dioecious, meaning that male cones (pollen cones) and female cones (seed cones) occur on separate trees. Some are male trees, some are female trees.

A pollen cone is only 1/8 of an inch long, slightly broad, and they shed their pollen in either the late winter or early spring. A seed cone is larger, about 1/4 of an inch long.

Pollination

Seed cones have open scales, which will remain open until the pollen from a male cone blows into the cone (through wind pollination). The pollen will remain inside the cone and fertilize it until the cone reaches maturity.

Fruit

The seeds that emerge from successful pollination are in the form of berries and are known as juniper berries. Juniper berries are very small and a dark purple color. The berries are covered in a dewy white wax substance, which gives the berry a sky-blue effect.

These juniper berries are liked by many small mammal and bird species. This is important for the dispersal of the seeds as well, as they are without wings.

Dispersal

There are one species of bird that is incredibly important for the dispersal of the eastern juniper seed. Cedar waxwings heavily feed upon juniper berries. The seed of the plant only takes 12 minutes to pass through the digestive tract of the bird.

Though juniper berries are also eaten by other birds, like wild turkeys and bluebirds, seeds are 3x more likely to germinate if they have passed through the digestive tract of the cedar waxwing bird.

What are the Varieties of Eastern Juniper?

There are 2 accepted varieties of the eastern juniper tree and are differentiated only through their growing locations, and slight differences in physical characteristics

Juniperus Virginiana var. Virginianathe topic of this article, this variety of eastern juniper is native to Maine, southern Ontario, South Dakota, Florida, and eastern-central Texas. Their cones are slightly larger than the other variety, and leaves are acute at the apex. The bark is a red-brown color.

Juniperus Virginiana var. Siliciolaalso referred to as the southern juniper or sand juniper, its scientific term means “flint dweller”. This variety of eastern juniper is native to the Atlantic Gulf coasts, the extreme southeastern corner of Virginia, central Florida, and southeastern Texas. Cones are slightly small, and leaves are blunt at the apex. The bark is an orange-brown color.

What are Some Cultivars of Eastern Juniper?

The eastern juniper is a very popular option of cultivar, as they are easy to shape, extremely easy to care for, are attractive, are not messy trees, and make for great ground cover or as a windbreak tree. Some types of cultivars include:

Canaertii Cultivar – this cultivar is shaped into a narrow and conical crown. There are only female trees of this cultivar.

Corcorcor Cultivar – this cultivar is shaped to have an erect and dense crown. There is only a female tree of this cultivar.

Goldspire Cultivar – this cultivar is shaped to have a narrow and conical crown. Their foliage is a much brighter yellow/green color.

Kobold Cultivar – this cultivar is shaped to be the smallest of the cultivars as a dwarf tree or shrub.

What Are Some Other Types of Juniper Species?

Alligator Juniper (Juniperus Deppeana

Also referred to as the checkerbark juniper, the alligator juniper gets its name from the effect of its scaly bark that resembles alligator skin. They are members of the cypress family that are native to China, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Russia, and Taiwan. They are commonly planted as ornamental trees.

Ashe Juniper (Juniperus Ashei

Also known as the mountain cedar, blueberry juniper, or post cedar, the ashei juniper tree is native to the most southwestern parts of the United States, and northeastern parts of Mexico. They are valued for their resilience, for their erosion control, and as a shade tree.

California Juniper (Juniperus Californica

The California juniper is a mountain tree that grows at high altitudes in the southwestern parts of North America. They grow in Arizona, California, and Nevada. They are an important source of food and shelter for animals and birds.

Chinese Juniper (Juniperus Chinensis)

The Chinese juniper is an ornamentally planted tree that is native to China, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, and Russia.

Common Juniper (Juniperus Communis

The common juniper has the largest geographical range of any other woody plant. They grow everywhere within the northern hemisphere that experience cool temperate climates. They are planted both ornamentally and are an important tree for wildlife.

Creeping Juniper (Juniperus Horizontalis

The creeping juniper is a low-growing shrub that is native to many parts of North America. They grow in the eastern provinces of Canada, and in Alaska, Montana, Maine, Wyoming, and Illinois in the United States. They are commonly planted as ground cover in gardens and parks.

Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus Scopulorum)

Rocky Mountain juniper is the prominent species of juniper on the western side of North America. They grow at high altitudes in British Columbia to Alberta, and in Washington towards North Dakota, Arizona, and Mexico. They are grown ornamentally and also have many medicinal uses.

Utah Juniper (Juniperus Osterosperma

Very closely related to the rocky mountain juniper, the Utah juniper is a small tree that is native to Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. They grow only in high altitudes and are considered mountain trees.

Where do Eastern Juniper Trees Grow?

Eastern juniper trees are native to the eastern side of North America. They grow as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, up through the Great Plains, and into the southwestern and southeastern parts of Canada as well.

They are mostly found growing in the prairies of oak barrens, pastures, along highways and construction sites, and in limestone hills.

What are the Growing Conditions of Eastern Juniper Trees?

Soil

The eastern juniper tree is known for being able to thrive in almost any soil type. They can grow in dry limestone soil, sandy soil, sandy loam soil, medium loam soil, clay loam, straight clay, or rocky soil.

Sun Exposure

This tree is also known for its ability to adapt to any level of sun exposure or temperature. They can thrive in full sun, partial shade, or full shade.

Water Level

Eastern junipers are completely resistant to drought and to flood. Though they prefer more dry locations, they will survive precipitation as well. They are an extremely resilient and tolerant tree species.

How is Eastern Juniper Trees Used?

Wood

Eastern juniper wood is known for its durability and resistance to decay. The heartwood is a very light brown-red color. It’s fragrant, soft with a fine grain, and brittle.

The best portions of the heartwood are taken for the manufacturing of pencils. They also make for excellent fence posts because of their resistance to rot.

Eastern juniper wood is also in high demand for cabinetry and closets. Moths tend to avoid the scent of cedar, and so the wood is used for lining for closets, chests, and cabinets. They are marketed as a “cedar closet” and “cedar chest”.

Landscaping & Ornamental 

Juniper trees are a very popular ornamental tree for several reasons. They are able to be planted closely together in rows because of their root systems. This makes them an ideal option for creating a solid windbreak shrub.

During the dustbowl of the 1930s, great plains farmers were encouraged to plant these windbreak shrubs of juniper trees to help prevent further soil erosion.

Some other reasons why they are planted as landscape trees is because they make excellent shade trees, they are very easy to care for, they are attractive, they smell lovely, and they positively contribute to surrounding wildlife.

In states like Arkansas, the Oklahoma Ozarks, and Missouri, they are also a very common type of Christmas tree. This is because the most popular types of Christmas trees, like the balsam fir or the fraser fir, do not grow in the same regions.

Medicinal

Cedar essential is extracted for eastern juniper trees using steam distillation from wood shavings. This essential oil contains terpenes, as well as alhpa-cedren, thujospene, and cedrol. Juniper tree also contains D-limonene, and foliage and twigs contain safrole and limonene.

Berries of the juniper tree were originally used for their medicinal properties and marketed as medicine. Nowadays, juniper fruit is actually distilled and used in the flavoring of gin!

Wildlife

The eastern juniper tree provides valuable shelter for small mammals and birds, as well as shade for larger animals looking to get a break from the harsh summer sun of the growing region.

The berries, leaves, twigs, and bark are also eaten by many types of animals, insects, and birds as well.

Unfortunately, the eastern juniper tree hasn’t adapted particularly well to fire damage. In fact, they are completely fired intolerant and have actually been blamed for rapid wildfire spread. In many regions where eastern junipers are present, land managers encourage prescribed burning to help prevent uncontrolled wildfires.

It is also important to remove any juniper trees from apple trees and surrounding areas. Eastern juniper trees are hosts for cedar-apple rust, which is a fungal disease that decimates apple orchards.

Pioneer Species

A pioneer species is a species of tree or plant that is the first to populate a natural area that has experienced natural devastation. This can be anything from clear-cutting, avalanche, drought, flood, disease, erosion, or wildfire.

The eastern juniper tree is one of the more long-lived pioneer species. Many other types will usually populate an area, and once an ecosystem is starting to be re-established, it will beat out by taller species. This is not the case for the juniper. They can sometimes live to be 900 years old!

Invasive Species

Eastern junipers are so successful because of their ability to adapt to almost any climate or soil type, that they are actually considered as being an invasive species in some of their native areas. They out-compete species in pasturelands, and their thick foliage completely blocks out sunlight for any sort of ground cover.

When their leaves drop, their decomposition also raises the pH level of the soil. This makes the soil more alkaline and will have high concentrations of phosphorous, which is difficult for other plants to absorb.

FAQs

Why are juniper trees called cedar trees?

Early Spanish and European settlers labeled the juniper tree as cedar, because of its very close resemblance to the cedar trees found in Europe. Though botanists and tree enthusiasts are aware that juniper trees are not cedar trees, the nicknames have stuck.

Are juniper and cypress the same?

Juniper trees are part of the cypress family (supressaceae). They are not the same tree, though they are members of the same botanical family.

Is juniper hardwood or softwood?

Juniper wood is labeled as softwood, though it is one of the harder types of softwood. They are almost as strong as pine wood, which is the strongest of all the softwoods.

What kind of soil do juniper trees like?

The eastern juniper tree is known for being able to thrive in almost any soil type. They can grow in dry limestone soil, sandy soil, sandy loam soil, medium loam soil, clay loam, straight clay, or rocky soil.

Are eastern juniper berries edible?

More commonly known as the juniper berry, these fruits are a favorite among many insect, mammal, and bird species. Though they are not commonly eaten outright by humans, they are what flavors traditional types of gin.

Are eastern juniper trees deer resistant?

Eastern juniper trees make for a great landscaping tree because they are deer resistant. Not only do they provide great coverage, but they are one of the rare trees or shrubs that deer will avoid entirely, therefore protecting other plants that may exist in a property.

Are eastern juniper trees invasive?

Eastern junipers are so successful because of their ability to adapt to almost any climate or soil type, that they are actually considered as being an invasive species in some of their native areas. They out-compete species in pasturelands, and their thick foliage completely blocks out sunlight for any sort of ground cover.

When their leaves drop, their decomposition also raises the pH level of the soil. This makes the soil more alkaline and will have high concentrations of phosphorous, which is difficult for other plants to absorb.

Will eastern juniper grow in shade?

The eastern juniper tree is known for its ability to adapt to any level of sun exposure or temperature. They can thrive in full sun, partial shade, or full shade.

Does eastern juniper wood make good fence posts?

The wood of the eastern juniper tree is a very popular choice for the manufacturing of fence posts because it is entirely resistant to rot. This means that fence posts will not decompose when they are in the soil and have to be replaced far less often than other wood posts might have to be.

How fast do eastern juniper trees grow?

The eastern juniper is slow to medium growing tree and will grow an average of 12 to 18 inches annually.

How long do eastern juniper trees live?

There isn’t much of a median age for juniper trees, because there are so many things that will kill the tree before it will make it to its life expectancy. There are several eastern junipers that are said to be over 900 years old! Though the majority of these trees will be killed by fire, disease, or cutting before they are able to reach that age. Regardless, they are a proud member of the old-growth forest.

How tall do eastern juniper trees get?

Depending on the growing location of the tree, an eastern juniper can range anywhere from being ground cover, to a bush or shrub, into a small to medium-sized tree.

When they grow in poor soils they will be a shrub that is only about 5 meters tall. When they grow in more ideal growing conditions, they can reach heights of 20 meters.

A small eastern juniper tree will have a trunk diameter ranging from about 12 inches to 40 inches, of course depending on the overall height and dimension of the tree.

How do you identify an eastern juniper tree?

The easiest way to identify an eastern juniper tree is by its orangey/brown scaly bark, by its small scale-like leaves with a strong juniper scent, or by their small juniper berries that are a sky-blue color.

When should you prune an eastern juniper?

Eastern junipers are one of those rare types of trees that respond very well to pruning. There is little damage that can be done by over-pruning this tree. It is best to prune them in the late winter or early spring right before their spring growth spurt.

How far apart do you plant eastern juniper?

Juniper trees are a very popular ornamental tree for several reasons. They are able to be planted closely together in rows because of their root systems. This makes them an ideal option for creating a solid windbreak shrub.

What is the difference between eastern redcedar and western redcedar?

The differences in the physical appearance of the eastern juniper tree and western juniper tree are completely negligible. The true difference lies in their growing regions; the eastern juniper is the species that covers the eastern and central parts of North America, whereas the western juniper, or the rocky mountain juniper, replaces the eastern juniper in the western parts of North America.

What is the ideal habitat for the eastern juniper tree?

The eastern juniper tree is known for being able to thrive in almost any soil type. They can grow in dry limestone soil, sandy soil, sandy loam soil, medium loam soil, clay loam, straight clay, or rocky soil.

This tree is also known for its ability to adapt to any level of sun exposure or temperature. They can thrive in full sun, partial shade, or full shade.

Eastern junipers are completely resistant to drought and to flood. Though they prefer more dry locations, they will survive precipitation as well. They are an extremely resilient and tolerant tree species.

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