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Juniper and Pinyon Forests

     Juniperus osteosperma (Utah Juniper), Juniperus monosperma (One-seed Juniper), and Pinus edulis (Pinyon Pine) dominate millions of acres of the West.  Grasses, Sagebrush, Serviceberry, Mountain Mahogany, Blackbrush, and numerous wildflowers find homes in these vast forests. The seeds of Pinyon and Juniper nourish wildlife. For centuries the Anasazi created a civilization with these trees, building homes, feeding, clothing, and warming themselves.  And they must have found the redolence of a Juniper and Pinyon Pine fire to be one of the grand pleasures of life  --  many of us in the Southwest still do today.

     Native Americans of the Southwest and gourmet cooks around the world still prize Pinyon Pine nuts for snacking and cooking.  The rot resistant wood of the Juniper is used extensively for fence posts and its seeds are strung on necklaces as "Ghost Beads" by the Navajo.

     Most species of Juniperus are commonly called "Cedar" in the United States: "Cedar fence posts", "Cedar firewood", "Eastern Red Cedar", etc.  But there are no Cedars, no members of Cedrus, in the United States.  What we call Cedars are Junipers (Juniperus) and are members of Cupressaceae (Cypress Family).

    Juniperus monosperma and Juniperus osteosperma can be difficult to tell apart. Click for some distinguishing characteristics

   The genus was named Juniperus by Linnaeus in 1753. 

Click for Juniperus scopulorum and Juniperus deppeana 
and 
Juniperus monosperma.

Juniperus osteosperma
Juniperus osteosperma
Juniperus osteospermaSynonymSabina osteosperma. (Utah Juniper) 
Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands. Spring.
Canyonlands National Park, Chesler Park Trail, October 17, 2017 and
Mesa Verde National Park, May 19, 2016.

Even in death Juniperus osteosperma has a powerful beauty.

Although Mistletoe is common in Juniperus osteosperma, it is hardly ever harmful to the tree.

Sabina osteosperma

Juniperus osteosperma

Juniperus osteospermaSynonymSabina osteosperma.  (Utah Juniper) 
Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands. Spring.
Dolores River Overlook, April 23, 2008 &
Cross Canyon, Utah, March, 2015.

With age comes grandeur. In the top photograph, a Utah Juniper passes the centuries high above the Dolores River Canyon with the same beauty and majesty shown in the second photograph above Cross Canyon.  Typically, both trees have lost their lower branches and dead branches add to their grandeur.  At two or three hundred years a Utah Juniper is still young.

Utah Juniper’s light green rounded leaf clusters, blue cones (berries), and low-growing, spreading, irregular shape are distinctive.  Green-yellow balls of Mistletoe (see below) are common in some Junipers in some areas of their growth range such as Mesa Verde National Park. Some species of Junipers in our area bear fruit on all plants (they are thus "monoecious"), some bear fruit only on female trees ("dioecious").  The Utah Juniper is usually monoecious, i.e., it usually has both male and female floral parts on each tree and therefore has seeds (enclosed in a blue cone) on all trees.  The seeds of these trees take two seasons to mature.

John Bigelow collected the first specimen of this tree in near Williams, Arizona in about 1853 and it was described and named Juniperus tetragona var. osteosperma by John Torrey in 1857. Elbert Little renamed the plant Juniperus osteosperma in 1938.

"Osteosperma" is Latin for "bone seed", i.e., "hard seed". 

Sabina osteosperma
Juniperus osteospermaSynonymSabina osteosperma.  (Utah Juniper) 
Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, March 1, 2006.

Juniper berries are often produced in massive abundance.

Sabina osteosperma
Juniperus osteospermaSynonymSabina osteosperma.  (Utah Juniper) 
Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, March 1, 2006.

When Juniper berries fall to the ground they ring their tree in a lovely splash of blue.

Sabina osteosperma
Juniperus osteospermaSynonymSabina osteosperma.  (Utah Juniper) 
Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands. Spring.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, June 10, 2004.

Juniper berries are food for many Colorado Plateau creatures, and they also find their way into cook book recipes and the flavoring of gin.

Sabina osteosperma
Juniperus osteospermaSynonymSabina osteosperma.  (Utah Juniper) 
Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands. Spring.
Mesa Verde National Park, April 26, 2007.

Shells of Juniper seeds are scattered around the base of these Juniper seedlings.

Sabina osteosperma
Juniperus osteospermaSynonymSabina osteosperma.  (Utah Juniper) 
Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands. Spring.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, May 4, 2010.

These half inch, blue-white galls (benign but abnormal tissue growth) are fairly common on Utah Juniper.  The precise cause of the galls is not known: 1) They may result from wasps or flies laying eggs on the branch (the blue tree growth would then inadvertently protect and give nourishment to the eggs and larvae), and/or 2) they may be caused by the larvae feeding on the tree cells.  In either case, the tree is apparently trying to isolate the irritation.

Sabina osteosperma

Juniperus osteospermaSynonymSabina osteosperma.  (Utah Juniper) 
Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Phoradendron juniperinum (Juniper Mistletoe)
Santalaceae (Sandalwood Family)
Synonym: Viscaceae (Mistletoe Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Woodlands. Spring.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, June 10, 2004.

Eight-to-fourteen inch drooping balls of Phoradendron juniperinum, Mistletoe, are fairly common parasites on Juniperus osteosperma.  Generally both plants lead long lives together, but occasionally sufficient Mistletoe growth in a tree combines with other stress factors and the tree will die after many, many years. 

The Mistletoe (in the center and upper left center of the photograph) looks quite similar to the Juniperus leaves which surround the Mistletoe.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color KeySpecies present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Juniperus osteosperma