Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Creeping juniper

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Creeping Juniper on Dunes 7635

Melissa told us on June 6th at Illinois Beach State Park that two kinds of juniper grow on the dunes there. The one shown here from a photo outing three days later is Juniperus horizontalis, which lives up to its species name by staying close to the ground as it creeps along the beach. Note the mostly immature fruit in the second picture. (Both photographs look predominantly downward.)

In Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose quoted from Meriwether Lewis’s journal entry of April 12, 1805, written in what I think is now North Dakota: “This plant would make very handsome edgings to the borders and walks of a garden…. [and it is] easily propegated*.” Lewis had called the plant “dwarf juniper,” which Ambrose interpreted as creeping juniper.

Creeping Juniper with Fruit 7693

* Neither Lewis nor Clark used standardized or even consistent spelling. The quoted sentence, with just one mistake, is an example of Lewis’s best spelling.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 29, 2016 at 5:11 AM

43 Responses

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  1. You’ve captured this juniper beautifully, Steve. It is a wonderful plant of the foredunes, helping stabilize the sand so that its associates can gain a foothold. Or roothold, rather.


    July 29, 2016 at 7:29 AM

  2. It’s one species I’d love to have in the yard but have not planted yet. It’s pretty, smells divine, helps with moisture retention in garden beds, and when pruned, the clippings make great decorative wreaths which can then be thrown to the compost pile.

    PS – I have a flower species that I’m curious about. Can I email you?


    July 29, 2016 at 9:06 AM

    • The USDA shows Juniperus horizontalis only across the northern tier of the country,


      so I wonder whether this species could tolerate the heat down here. Do you have experience with it?

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2016 at 1:05 PM

      • I have no experience with it, but we seem to have enough moisture nearer the Gulf Coast. Friends use it as ground cover in shady and sunlit beds alike, easily managed. Birds like the berries, I’m told.


        July 29, 2016 at 2:39 PM

        • Do the friends who use it as a ground cover live in Texas or another hot part of the country?

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 29, 2016 at 2:45 PM

          • Neighbors. Also, planned urban developments (like the one we’re in) use them frequently on esplanades as landscaping ground cover. That’s GOT to be pretty hot, moist or not!


            July 29, 2016 at 2:48 PM

            • Then I guess this species can survive down here, so far from its native range. Who’d have thought it?

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 29, 2016 at 2:54 PM

              • Unless it’s a subspecies? I’ll have to check with my xeriscaping nursery people next time I’m down there.


                July 29, 2016 at 2:56 PM

                • I think the answer is to be found in cultivars rather than subspecies. In the article about creeping juniper at


                  I just spotted this sentence: “The height varies depending on the cultivar.” I ran into a similar situation a few weeks ago when someone from an English blog told me about the Clematis texensis that’s common over there. I had trouble believing it, but when I did a search I discovered that the plants in England are cultivars made from the original Texas species. In the case of creeping juniper, there are apparently cultivars that can stand the heat and extra sun we get at such a southern latitude.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 29, 2016 at 3:06 PM

  3. Aren’t the berries what Gin is made of?


    July 29, 2016 at 9:09 AM

    • Yes, they are. The word “gin” comes from a version of the word “juniper.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2016 at 10:11 AM

      • Thanks for the info. I hadn’t looked up the etymology yet. 🙂


        July 29, 2016 at 10:36 AM

        • As you know, etymology is my thing. The origin of the word “gin” is something that I already knew.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 29, 2016 at 1:44 PM

          • Ever since I took historical linguistics at university I’ve been interested in etymology, too.


            July 30, 2016 at 8:52 AM

            • Good for you to have studied historical linguistics. As you know, Germans (like Grimm, for example) were pioneers in the field in the early 1800s.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 30, 2016 at 9:43 AM

              • Mine was basically English, though: Old, Middle, and Early Modern English.


                July 30, 2016 at 1:36 PM

                • How nice. I don’t think I knew about that part of your background.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2016 at 1:44 PM

                • I really enjoyed that, especially Chaucer.


                  July 30, 2016 at 1:55 PM

                • I never studied Chaucer but I did take a course that presented texts in the original Old English, including Beowulf.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2016 at 3:41 PM

                • I didn’t do much Old English, really. More Middle and Early Modern.


                  July 31, 2016 at 2:58 PM

                • And I took only that one Old English course. It’s been 50 years, so I don’t remember a lot of it.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 31, 2016 at 5:46 PM

                • It’s over 40 years for me.


                  August 1, 2016 at 10:26 AM

  4. I haven’t thought of creeping juniper in many years! the aroma of the plant all but wafts thru cyberspace, as does the earthy prickles it might give if i reached thru the branches to stir the area near the plant!

    another post caught my eye last week and i’m heading there now to compare the horsetail in the cloudforest with the image you’ve shared. about once a week i harvest a bit of horsetail and make a tea for my ‘suffering’ chinkungunya fingers. it’s been over a year, and like many other chikv victims, i am punished if i overwork my hands.

    am about to go to lunch w/a friend so it might be the next trip in to swap thoughts about the primitive horestail.


    • Ah, another person who’s familiar with this plant, which I’d never even heard of. How wonderful that its scent wafts down to you through cyberspace.

      I see from


      that there are quite a few extant species of horsetails. I don’t know how to tell any of them apart. And think about the giant extinct ones that reached 100 ft. in height.

      The Macintosh and iPhone operating systems both allow people to dictate rather than type. I imagine Windows and Android have the same capability. Dictation would offer another aid, in addition to horsetail tea, to your chikungunya fingers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2016 at 1:43 PM

      • I can almost visualize what it would be like to gaze skyward at the 100-ft tall horsetails. Wow.. wouldn’t it be nice to go back as a voeuyer and witness what the early earth was like?!

        • It sure would. Some of the giant things persisted until the end of the last ice age, just a moment ago in geological time. Over where you are there are even still tree ferns.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 29, 2016 at 10:24 PM

          • On my friends’ property where I’ve been for the past year, I admire those tree ferns daily. This past week I spotted a very tall wild heliconia, quite lovely.. What’s nice here is that so many locals respect the native plants and continue to take pride in knowing which ones are medicinal.

            • I had to remind myself about the genus Heliconia:


              Steve Schwartzman

              July 29, 2016 at 10:58 PM

              • I’ve read many times that the hummingbirds are the ‘only pollinator’ of the heliconias.. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but they certainly love the heliconias. In the early mornings after rains, I often enjoy watching a Rufous-tailed hummingbird take splash-baths in the leaves of the heliconias!

                • Perhaps someday you’ll also be able to get a video of one of those splash baths.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2016 at 6:22 AM

                • I have often thought how much you’d appreciate ‘walking in my shoes’ on my friends’ property.. it will be selling very soon, though I wil be here for another month.. you are always welcome to visit if the whim hits, though i cannot extend an open-door invitation after the new owners are here! both the old owners and the new have said i am welcome to invite any of my friends to stay, and you definitely fit that – ha as does our dear linda.. wouldn’t it be lovely if you, your wife and linda could zip down here and spend time on the property and experiencee mindo’s cloud forest?!!!! i’ll see if that magic carpet on the coast can soar out and retrieve you! honestly, the invitation is genuine.. the house has three bedrooms and the other has four…

                • Hey, that’s a great offer. It really would be fun if we could all visit in Ecuador. There’s nothing like a good combination of people and places. We’ll have to see if we can make it happen. Thanks again.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2016 at 5:58 PM

              • https://playamart.wordpress.com/olympus-digital-camera-1891/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true
                this flower was about 10 feet high, and the foliage extended much higher…

  5. Such a pretty plant. I don’t recall seeing it before, even though it’s shown in Iowa. I never would have thought of juniper for dune stabilization, but of course I’m still coming to grips with the realization that there are more dunes than those found in coastal Texas, and plants that enjoy living on them.

    I found a helpful guide to our dune system put out by the General Land Office. It includes this interesting tidbit: “Three species of grass are appropriate for dune vegetation projects on the Texas coast: bitter panicum (Panicum amarum), sea oats (Uniola paniculata), and marsh hay cordgrass (Spartina patens). Dune plants are not always available commercially in Texas. They usually are transplanted from natural stands.”

    Your aside about spelling made me smile. I’ve been trying to figure out whether to use Wanganui or Whanganui. Now, I know: both are considered acceptable, but what a tussle they had over the issue.


    July 29, 2016 at 6:41 PM

    • Definitely more dunes than those along the Texas coast, as I finally verified at Monahans Sandhills a couple of years ago, and as I’d like to experience at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The dunes along Lake Michigan in Illinois and Indiana were a good step forward. All that said, the guide you linked to is a reminder that I also need to see a lot more of what the Texas coast offers.

      Reading Lewis and Clark’s documents in their original form makes even today’s poorly educated students look good.

      I’d go with Whanganui, which is apparently the original form. My guess is that Wanganui developed as an English settlers’ spelling pronunciation, absent an understanding that wh in Maori names represented something like an f sound. How is it that you were contemplating that name?

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2016 at 9:04 PM

      • Ah – my interest in NZ/Maori names would seem curious, wouldn’t it? It’s a blog post, of course. I found a connection between the Brazoria wildlife refuge, the Waitangiroto River, and the Okarito lagoon.

        I also found this paper, which is a bit of a slog, but interesting. In the end, it affirms exactly what you proposed as the explanation for the difference in spelling.


        July 30, 2016 at 7:45 AM

        • That article describes the situation well. I’ve run up against similar considerations in determining how to pronounce the names of several places in the Austin area. For example, people (or at least Anglos) who grew up in or near Manchaca are said to pronounce the name as if it were man-shack, but I always pronounce it the Spanish way, man-cha-ca. Most people who see the spelling Elgin would pronounce the name as if it were Eljin, and that’s the case in most of the U.S. The town with that name east of Austin, however, preserves the German hard-g sound—even though much of the population there now is Hispanic.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 30, 2016 at 9:37 AM

  6. I enjoyed “Undaunted Courage” very much…especially the fact that Sacagawea played such an important part of the team.

    I read this, at first, as Creepy Juniper.

    Steve Gingold

    August 2, 2016 at 6:32 PM

    • You’ve seen that I misread things too. My reading of Undaunted Courage, like yours, wasn’t a miss.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 2, 2016 at 9:00 PM

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