Juniper Tree Identification

Overview

There are between 50 and 60 different species of juniper (Juniperus spp.) in the world, and it is native to most parts of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, some junipers are dubbed "cedars," even though such a botanical distinction is given only to members of the genus Cedrus. Junipers may be tall, upright evergreen trees, or bushy or sprawling shrubs. They prosper in lots of sunlight and in any well-draining soil. Depending on species, they grow best in temperate climates.

Foliage

Juniper trees develop two different foliage types that may both be present on the same tree or branch; these are juvenile and adult forms. Juvenile leaves are usually needle-like or narrow wedges about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length. Adult leaves are more scale-like and overlap each other, lying flatly along the shoots or slightly spreading. Their length is considerably shorter at only 1/16 to 1/4 inch. To be more precise, juniper leaves most often occur in alternating opposite pairs in four-ranks or in alternating whorls of three in six-ranks, according to the Gymnosperm Database.

Tree Gender

Juniper trees are mainly either fully male or female. A tree's sexual identity is determined by the type of cone it produces in spring and summer.

Cones

Male juniper cones are rounded to slightly oval in shape and grow up to 1/4 inch in diameter. Their color is yellow to tan. Female cones are rounded and fleshy, with a diameter ranging between 1/8 and 1/2 inch. They have tightly closed scales that are fused. The berry-like fruit contains one to 10 seeds and takes one to two years to ripen on the tree. The female cones linger on the trees in different development stages, and can be seen any time of year.

Tissue Oils

Fragrant oils run throughout the stem and leaf tissues of juniper trees. If you crush the juniper's foliage, a young stem or immature, soft cone, you will smell the pine-like fragrance. People with sensitive skin may also develop mild dermatitis or reddening of the skin from light contact with the needles. There may be resin in the female cones, making them taste either sweet or bitter.

Wood

Juniper tree wood is fragrant and usually reddish or reddish-brown. It is resistant to both decay and insect consumption. The wood is soft in comparison to the wood of species of larger timber trees species.

Keywords: juniperus characteristics, juniper identification, conifer tree types, identifying juniper trees, identifying cedar trees

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.