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Rocky Mountain Juniper (Scopulorum)

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Rocky Mountain Juniper (Scopulorum)

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The Rocky Mountain Juniper (Scopulorum) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the fall and continuing until winter. Leaves are retained year to year. The Rocky Mountain Juniper (Scopulorum) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Rocky Mountain Juniper (Scopulorum) will reach up to 50 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 25 feet.

The Rocky Mountain Juniper (Scopulorum) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: Rocky Mountain juniper was and still is used by many tribes for incense in purification and ritual (Kindscher 1992). The Blackfeet made a tea from the berries of the Rocky Mountain juniper to stop vomiting (Kindscher 1992). A Blackfeet remedy for arthritis and rheumatism was to boil juniper leaves in water, add one-half teaspoon of turpentine, and when cooled, rub the mixture on affected parts. The Blackfeet also drank a tea made from Juniperus scopulorum root as a general tonic; mixed with Populus leaves this root tea became a liniment for stiff back or backaches (McClintock 1909, Johnston 1970, Hellson 1974).

The Cheyennes steeped the leaves of the Rocky Mountain juniper and drank the resulting tea to relieve persistent coughing or a tickling in the throat. It was also believed to produce sedative effects that were especially useful for calming a hyperactive person. Cheyenne women drank juniper tea to speed delivery during childbirth (Grinnell 1962). The Cheyenne, along with the Flathead, Nez Perce, Kutenai, and Sioux, made a tea from juniper boughs, branches, and fleshy cones. The tea was used as a cure for colds, fevers, tonsillitis, and pneumonia (Hart 1976).

As a cure for asthma, the Gros Ventres ate whole juniper berries or pulverized them and boiled them to make a tea. They also made a preparation from the leaves mixed with the root, which they applied topically to control bleeding (Kroeber 1908). The Crow drank this medicinal tea to check diarrhea and to stop lung or nasal hemorrhage. Crow women drank it after childbirth for cleansing and healing (Hart 1976).

The wood of red cedar is very durable, and is used for lance shafts, bows, and other items. Flutes made from juniper wood were highly regarded by the Cheyenne.

Ornamental: All of the native junipers are valuable ornamental species, and many horticultural varieties have been developed. Rocky Mountain juniper is widely used in shelterbelts and wildlife plantings. The close-grained, aromatic, and durable wood of junipers is used for furniture, interior paneling, novelties, and fence posts. The fruits and young branches contain aromatic oil that is used in medicines.

Wildlife: Junipers are important to wildlife throughout the country. Their twigs and foliage are eaten extensively by hoofed browsers, but the chief attraction to wildlife is the bluish-black berry-like fruit. The cedar waxwing is one of the principal users of juniper berries, but numerous other birds and mammals, both large and small, make these fruits and important part of their diet. In addition to their wildlife food value, junipers provide important protective and nesting cover. Chipping sparrows, robins, song sparrows, and mockingbirds use these trees as one of their favorite nesting sites. Juncos, myrtle warblers, sparrows of various kinds, and other birds use the dense foliage as roosting cover. In winter their dense protective shelter is especially valuable.

Description General: Cypress Family (Cupressaceae). Rocky Mountain cedar (Juniperus scopulorum ) is a medium sized dioecious or rarely monoecious tree from 10-20 m (33-66') tall (McGregor et al. 1986, Stephens 1973). The evergreen tree is scraggly with rounded crown to pyramidal. The bark is dark reddish-brown to grayish in color, thin, fibrous, and usually shreds with age. Leaves are green or blue-green, usually barely overlapping and closely appressed, scalelike and 0.2-0.3 cm (1/16-1/8) long or needlelike and 0.6-1.2 cm (1/4-1/2) long. Recessed glands occur on the dorsal side of the leaves. Juniperus scopulorum differs from red cedar (J. virginiana) by the blunt leaves, the leaves not overlapping, and the longer, elliptic glands. The fruits of J. scopulorum mature in the second season, while in J. virginiana fruits mature in the first season. Juniperus scopulorum is usually a more rounded tree and J. virginiana is more conical.

Male and female cones are on separate trees. The

General Characteristics

General: Cypress Family (Cupressaceae). Rocky Mountain cedar (Juniperus scopulorum ) is a medium sized dioecious or rarely monoecious tree from 10-20 m (33-66') tall (McGregor et al. 1986, Stephens 1973). The evergreen tree is scraggly with rounded crown to pyramidal. The bark is dark reddish-brown to grayish in color, thin, fibrous, and usually shreds with age. Leaves are green or blue-green, usually barely overlapping and closely appressed, scalelike and 0.2-0.3 cm (1/16-1/8) long or needlelike and 0.6-1.2 cm (1/4-1/2) long. Recessed glands occur on the dorsal side of the leaves. Juniperus scopulorum differs from red cedar (J. virginiana) by the blunt leaves, the leaves not overlapping, and the longer, elliptic glands. The fruits of J. scopulorum mature in the second season, while in J. virginiana fruits mature in the first season. Juniperus scopulorum is usually a more rounded tree and J. virginiana is more conical.

Male and female cones are on separate trees. The staminate (male) cones are yellowish-brown, papery, solitary at the tips of branchlets, ovoid to ellipsoid, and 0.2-0.4 cm (1/16-1/8) long. The ovulate (female) cones are solitary at the tips of branchlets, dark blue or bluish-purple, waxy and berry-like, and 0.4-0.7 cm (3/16-1/4) long. The female cones ripen from September through October. There are 1-3 seeds per cone, yellow-brown and round, 2-4 mm in diameter, ridged near the base and sometimes shallowly pitted.

Required Growing Conditions

Rocky Mountain juniper grows in prairie hillsides, fields, pastures, and occasionally in woodlands, in rocky, sandy, or clay soils. The distribution of Rocky Mountain juniper is from British Columbia and Alberta south through the Great Basin and the Rocky Mountains to Arizona and New Mexico and into western Texas, north across eastern Colorado, western Nebraska to western North Dakota, and west in Montana. The range overlaps that of Juniperus virginiana only in North Dakota.

Cultivation and Care

Rocky Mountain juniper is often used as an ornamental because of its evergreen foliage. Juniper can be easily transplanted in the early spring before it starts its new growth. It is especially well adapted to dry areas. The junipers are generally propagated by cuttings.

Propagation from Cuttings Cuttings are made 5 to 15 cm (2 to 65 inches) long from new lateral growth tips stripped of older branches. A small piece of old wood, a “heel,” is thus left attached to the base of the cutting. Some propagators believe this to be advantageous. In other cases, good results are obtained when the cuttings are just clipped without the “heel” from the older wood. Cuttings from the current season’s terminal growth also root well.

Cuttings to be rooted in the greenhouse can be taken at any time during the winter or rooted outdoors on heated beds. Exposing the stock plants to several hard freezes seems to give better rooting. Optimum time for taking cuttings is when stock plants have ceased growth (i.e. the late fall-winter propagation period is more successful than summer). For propagating in an outdoor cold frame, cuttings are taken in late summer or early fall. There may be advantages to using bottom heat. Lightly wounding the base of the cuttings is sometimes helpful, and the use of root-promoting chemicals, especially IBA, is beneficial. Recommendations for root-promoting chemicals include the following: 2500 IBA Quick-dip (Alabama), 3000 – 8000 ppm IBA liquid, and 0.3-4.5 percent IBA talc. A medium-coarse sand or a 10:1 mixture of perlite and peat moss is a satisfactory rooting medium. Maintenance of a humid environment without excessive wetting of the cuttings is desirable, as is a relatively high light intensity. A light, intermittent mist can be used. Bottom heat of 60-65°F (12°C) is critical the first six weeks of propagation to allow the basal wound of cuttings to callus.

Seed Propagation Juniperus scopulorum flowers from April to June. The fruits should be gathered in the fall (September-October) as soon as the berry-like cones become ripe. Rocky Mountain juniper trees come to seed-bearing age in 10-20 years, and they bear cones every 2-5 years. Seed collection can be done by stripping or picking the berries by hand from the trees, or by flailing the fruits to ground cloths. Be careful to pick only ripe berries. Since the number of filled seeds varies widely from tree to tree, it is important to test the seeds by cutting to determine percent fill. Seeds may be stored as berries or cleaned seeds.

The seeds can be recovered by macerating the fruits and floating the seeds to the top. The addition of detergent to the maceration water helps to separate seeds from the resinous fruits. Juniper seeds store quite well. They should be dried to 10-20% moisture and stored in a sealed container at cold temperatures.

For best germination, seeds should be removed from the fruits, then the seed coat is softened by treating it with sulfuric acid for 120 minutes. After soaking the seeds in sulfuric acid, follow with 6 weeks of warm stratification at 20 to 30°C (70 to 85°F), or summer planting, then 10 weeks of pre-chilling at 4°C (40°F). Use of fresh seed reduced the warm stratification time. Rather than the acid treatment, two to three months of warm stratification could be used. As an alternative for cold stratification, the seed may be sown in the fall. Germination is delayed at temperatures above 15°C (60° F). Germination is often delayed in juniper seeds, as seeds are consistently highly dormant.

Juniper seeds are usually sown in the nursery in the late summer or fall, but may be sown in spring or summer. The seeds of most species should be sown in fall to take advantage of natural pre-chilling.

Juniper seeds are usually drilled in well-prepared seedbeds in rows 15 to 20 cm apart and covered with 0.6 cm of soil. In nurseries with severe climates, such as those in the Great Plains, considerable

General Upkeep and Control

The following information on the Traditional Resource Management (TRM) for Rocky Mountain juniper was provided by Lynn Youngbuck who is Cherokee, Chiracahua, and Fox. TRM includes the following: Take what you need, leaving the best to reproduce. Speak to the plant, leave an offering of tobacco or sage before harvesting. The plant will grow back two stems for every one cut. We humans are another strand in life. Plants sustain us and should be treated as another living being. Plants were taken care of in extended family groups of women. They were taken care of and watched each year for generations. Materials harvested were shared and traded with the whole tribe.

Plant Basics
Category
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Stoloniferous
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 50
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Fall Winter
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5–8.5 pH
Precipitation Range 9–9 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Minimum Frost-Free Days 120 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention Yes
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA

Plant Name Synonyms
  • Juniperus scopulorum var. columnaris
  • Juniperus virginiana var. montana
  • Juniperus virginiana ssp. scopulorum
  • Juniperus virginiana var. scopulorum
  • Sabina scopulorum
Plant Distribution
can be found in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming