Juniper Tree - Juniperus Communis

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Juniper Tree - General Information

The juniper is a very slow growing tree and is usually found as a stubby evergreen conifer but may also grow upright, forming a columnar shape and reach up to 33 feet in height in sheltered spots. Native to the United Kingdom the juniper tree is, in fact, our only native member of the cypress family. Although the juniper tree grows well throughout the northern hemisphere, in the United Kingdom its population is rapidly declining and is now of conservation concern.

The main growing sites for the juniper tree are Scotland, where it is found growing in forests along with the Scots pine, on heather moorland and sometimes as a low-growing scrub on mountains. In southern England, it is found growing on chalk downland, particularly on steep hills. In other parts of the United Kingdom, it can be found in a few scattered locations in northern England, north Wales and Ireland.

Although the decline here of the juniper tree is not entirely understood, it is thought that some of the reasons why it is not being able to regenerate itself successfully are due to grazing deer and rabbits. Along with the diseases Phytophthora root rot and the fungus disease Phytophthora Austrocedrae, which also infects the tree through its roots, causing a decline to its foliage and eventually death.


Description of a Juniper Tree

The bark of the juniper tree is a reddish brown colour and in older trees the bark becomes stringy and then peels off in strips.

The leaves of the juniper tree look more like needles, are stiff and have a sharp, prickly point. They are blue-green in colour on top but are a darker grey-green colour underneath and about 2cm in length. These leaves also contain a slightly toxic oil which may cause irritation or blisters to the skin in some people.

The flowers (which are actually cones) of the juniper tree appear in May and are pollinated by the wind, with male and female flowers borne on separate trees. The male flowers are small and yellow in colour while the female flowers are a greenish colour.

After pollination has taken place, the female cones swell, becoming a hard green cone made up of fleshy scales, although they look much more like a berry, which contains two to three seeds. It takes about two to three years for the berries to ripen fully, when they gradually become a blue-black colour, with both green and ripe fruit being seen on the tree at any one time.

The berries are an excellent source of food for several species of bird such as the fieldfare, thrush and in Scotland the grouse, who distribute the indigestible seeds far and wide through their droppings.


Cultivation of a Juniper Tree

The juniper tree is very hardy and will grow in any moist, well drained soil, in sheltered or exposed sites, in full sun or partial shade, although it has a preference and does well in open, sunny places.

Juniper trees are very low maintenance and are ideal for wildlife gardens and are also suitable for gardens, parks, hillsides, open spaces and urban areas.

Propagation can be by either seed or semi-hardwood.


Pests and Diseases of the Juniper Tree

The juniper tree is under threat from rabbits and deer who eat the foliage and berries, Phytophthora root rot, Phytophthora austrocedrae and the juniper tree may also suffer attack by caterpillars juniper scale and aphids.


Pruning of Juniper Tree

The juniper tree does not tend to need pruning.


Medicinal Uses of the Juniper Tree

The berries and oil of the juniper tree have been used in herbal medicine for centuries to treat various conditions including kidney problems urine flow, arthritis, indigestion, and flatulence, although modern day herbalists no longer use juniper in relation to kidney problems as it may prove harmful to the kidneys.

The oil is also used in aromatherapy and to flavour gin.

It is not advisable to self-medicate with juniper berries or oils, they may cause abortion in a pregnant woman, kidney problems and also may irritate the skin along with many other side effects.


Other Uses of the Juniper Tree

The wood of the juniper tree is very robust and much used for carving, turning and making decorative veneers. Polishing juniper produces wood that is a beautiful vibrant red colour.

When burnt the wood provides an aromatic scent which has been used to smoke food and also to scent rooms with.

The berries can be ground or crushed as you would with peppercorns and similarly used and have also been used to flavour cakes and bread. Apart from flavouring gin they are also utilised in a Swedish health beer.


The Juniper Tree in Folklore and Mythology

In parts of Europe, juniper sticks were burnt to deter against evil spirits and witches.


Interesting Facts about the Juniper Tree


The berries were taken by a pregnant woman to induce abortion, giving the berries the name 'bastard killers' and is also where the name 'mothers ruin' comes from in reference to gin which is flavoured with juniper berries.



This article was brought to your by Conner John, marketing manager for GraftinGardenersTree Specialists.

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