Juniperus osteosperma

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Utah juniper
A Utah juniper showing distinctive shape and leaves
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Gymnospermae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Cupressales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Juniperus
J. osteosperma
Binomial name
Juniperus osteosperma
(Torr.) Little, 1948
Natural range

Juniperus osteosperma (Utah juniper; syn. J. utahensis) is a shrub or small tree native to the southwestern United States.


The plant reaches 3–6 meters (9 ft 10 in – 19 ft 8 in), rarely to 9 m, tall. The shoots[which?] are fairly thick compared to most junipers, 1.5–2 millimetres (116332 in) in diameter. The leaves are arranged in opposite decussate pairs[2] or whorls of three; the adult leaves are scale-like, 1–2 mm long (to 5 mm on lead shoots) and 1–1.5 mm broad. The juvenile leaves (on young seedlings only) are needle-like, 5–10 mm (3161332 in) long. The cones are berry-like, 8–13 mm (51612 in) in diameter, blue-brown with a whitish waxy bloom, and contain a single seed (rarely two); they mature in about 18 months and are eaten by birds and small mammals.[3] The male cones are 2–4 mm long, and shed their pollen in early spring. It is largely monoecious with both sexes on the same plant, but around 10% of plants are dioecious, producing cones of only one sex.

The plants frequently bear numerous galls caused by the juniper tip midge Oligotrophus betheli (Bibionomorpha: Cecidomyiidae); these are conspicuous pale violet-purple, produced in clusters of 5–20 together, each gall 1–2 centimetres (3834 in) in diameter, with dense modified spreading scale-leaves 6–10 mm (1438 in) long and 2–3 mm broad at the base.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The species is native to the southwestern United States, in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, western New Mexico, western Colorado, Wyoming, southern Montana, southern Idaho and eastern California. It grows at moderate altitudes of 1,300–2,600 m (4,300–8,500 ft), on dry soils, often together with Pinus monophylla.


Seeds are dispersed by a variety of mammals and birds. Mammals include jackrabbits (mostly the black-tailed jackrabbit Lepus californicus spp.) rodents and to a lesser extent by coyotes (Canis latrans).[4] Most notable among the birds that disperse juniper berries is the Townsend's solitaire (Myadestes townsendi).[5]


Native Americans such as the Havasupai used the bark for a variety of purposes, including beds, and ate the cones both fresh and in cakes.[6] The Havasupai used the gum to make a protective covering over wounds. Additionally, the Yavapai gave their women a tea made from the leaves to calm their contractions after giving birth, and fumigated them with smoke from the leaves placed over hot coals. The Navajo sweep their tracks with boughs from the trees so death will not follow them.[7]

A small quantity of ripe berries can be eaten as an emergency food or as a sage-like seasoning for meat. The dried berries can be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute.[8]

Utah juniper is an aromatic plant. Essential oil extracted from the trunk and limb is prominent in α-pinene, δ-3-carene, and cis-thujopsene. Essential oil extracted from the leaf is prominent in camphor and bornyl acetate.[9] The trunk of Utah juniper retains essential oil for at least 20 years after the tree dies, and is prominent in cedrol and cis-thujopsene.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Farjon, A. (2013). "Juniperus osteosperma". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2013: e.T42241A2965708. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T42241A2965708.en. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  2. ^ Arno, Stephen F.; Hammerly, Ramona P. (2020) [1977]. Northwest Trees: Identifying & Understanding the Region's Native Trees (field guide ed.). Seattle: Mountaineers Books. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-68051-329-5. OCLC 1141235469.
  3. ^ Little, Elbert L. (1994) [1980]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Western Region (Chanticleer Press ed.). Knopf. p. 317. ISBN 0394507614.
  4. ^ Chambers, Jeanne C.; Vander Wall, Stephen B.; Schupp, Eugene W. (January 1999). "Seed and seedling ecology of piñon and juniper species in the pygmy woodlands of western North America". The Botanical Review. 65 (1): 1–38. doi:10.1007/bf02856556. ISSN 0006-8101. S2CID 38377131.
  5. ^ Poddar, Saradell; Lederer, Roger J. (July 1982). "Juniper Berries as an Exclusive Winter Forage for Townsend's Solitaires". American Midland Naturalist. 108 (1): 34. doi:10.2307/2425289. ISSN 0003-0031. JSTOR 2425289.
  6. ^ Whitney, Stephen (1985). Western Forests (The Audubon Society Nature Guides). New York: Knopf. p. 371. ISBN 0-394-73127-1.
  7. ^ Peattie, Donald Culross (1953). A Natural History of Western Trees. New York: Bonanza Books. pp. 265–66.
  8. ^ Elias, Thomas S.; Dykeman, Peter A. (2009) [1982]. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods. New York: Sterling. pp. 194, 197. ISBN 978-1-4027-6715-9. OCLC 244766414.
  9. ^ Wilson TM, Poulson A, Packer C, Marshall J, Carlson RE, Buch RM. "Essential oils of whole tree, trunk, limbs and leaves of Juniperus osteosperma from Utah". Phytologia. 101 (3): 188–193.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Wilson T.M., Poulson A., Packer C., Carlson R.E., Davis R., Dey M.G., Owen N.M., Smalley S.W., Dodge R., Zahn G., Baadsgaard A., Stevens M.T. (December 22, 2021). "Essential oil, insect, and microbe relationships in Juniperus osteosperma (Cupressaceae) trees killed by wildfire" (PDF). Phytologia. 103 (4): 106–118.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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