Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A tale of two junipers

with 19 comments

Lady Bird Johnson website: "Although commonly a tree in Eurasia, Common Juniper is only rarely a small tree in New England and other northeastern States. In the West, it is a low shrub, often at timberline. Including geographic varieties, this species is the most widely distributed native conifer in both North America and the world. Juniper berries are food for wildlife, especially grouse, pheasants, and bobwhites. They are an ingredient in gin, producing the distinctive aroma and tang.”

The other juniper that Melissa pointed out to us at Illinois Beach State Park on June 6th was a species that forms broad, low mounds, Juniperus communis. Here’s a picture from the overcast morning of June 9th showing a prominent common juniper mound in the foreground and several others farther back. The yellow-orange wildflowers are the hoary puccoon that you saw closer views of a few weeks ago.

Whenever I come across the species name communis I’m accustomed to finding out that the plant in question is native to Europe, where Linnaeus and other early botanists considered it “common.” I was surprised, then, to learn that Juniperus communis is native on several continents. Here’s what the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says: “Although commonly a tree in Eurasia, Common Juniper is only rarely a small tree in New England and other northeastern States.  In the West, it is a low shrub, often at timberline. Including geographic varieties, this species is the most widely distributed native conifer in both North America and the world. Juniper berries are food for wildlife, especially grouse, pheasants, and bobwhites. They are an ingredient in gin, producing the distinctive aroma and tang.”

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2016 at 5:07 AM

19 Responses

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  1. Juniper communis grows on the chalky grass slopes all around us here, and is a major feature of the landscape. So normal for me that I have never photographed them as I take them so for granted! The berries are used in Sauerkraut and the regional speciality onion tart, as well as for schnaps. They grow to an average height of about 1.5 metres on the hills and are sometimes shaped by prevalent winds. I found a photo of some on this website: http://www.urlaub-im-altmuehltal.de/gemeinde-walting/wacholderheide.htm
    I didn’t know they are also native in America.

    Cathy

    July 30, 2016 at 5:57 AM

    • This is one of those rare native species that we share, even well into continents on opposite sides of the Atlantic. (Another that comes to mind is the red admiral butterfly.) As “common” as common juniper is, it was new to me because it doesn’t grow in the southern United States. (I might have seen it as a child in New York without knowing what it was.) The ones in your photo look junipery to me, which is to say vertical, as opposed to the wide, rounded ones I saw at Illinois Beach.

      My mother used to make a type of sauerkraut that she sweetened with brown sugar but I’ve never heard of one with juniper berries in it. I searched your blog but didn’t find it. I did get hungry, though, as I skimmed posts featuring so many yummy dishes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2016 at 6:50 AM

      • Sauerkraut would just not be the same without juniper berries! We do of course have a wide variety of ready-made versions here, but I think most of them – at least in Bavaria – have those berries, either whole or crushed. Just add a few, lightly crushed, to a jar of plain sauerkraut and simmer for half an hour with a dash of white wine and apple juice. 😉

        Cathy

        July 30, 2016 at 1:37 PM

        • I’ll have to try that, although with the local Juniperus ashei because Juniperus communis doesn’t grow here.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 30, 2016 at 1:47 PM

        • Sauerkraut with juniper berries is not really my favourite. I like Sauerkraut plain better – just cooked together with Kasseler. Oh so yummy!

          Pit

          July 30, 2016 at 1:57 PM

  2. I had no idea so many juniper species exist. Our house in Iowa had juniper bushes growing beneath the windows, but there’s no way to know what they were. I’m sure they were cultivars, though they tended to be rounded and berry-laden, like these.

    Just for fun, I checked Roemer’s Texas to see whether he mentioned any junipers. There are multiple entries for Juniperus virginiana, but that’s the only juniper he mentions. There were no references to J. ashei. I found the explanation for that at Wildflower.org: ” The [Ashe juniper] is named in honor of William Willard Ashe 1872-1932, pioneer forester of the United States Forest Service, who collected a specimen in Arkansas.”

    In a couple of places, Roemer’s description of the juniper he’s seen read exactly like a description of J. ashei. Since the species overlap, I wondered if he might have seen both, but conflated them: probably the least likely explanation. Of course, during his years in Texas, J. ashei wouldn’t have spread so widely. Still, it seems strange he wouldn’t have seen it, since he traveled in its territory.

    shoreacres

    July 30, 2016 at 7:28 AM

    • I found an “Eat the Weeds” article that describes some ways that people have used species of junipers as food and medicine:

      http://www.eattheweeds.com/junipers/

      You raise a good question about Roemer’s not mentioning the Ashe juniper (by whatever name). Though Ashe’s name has gotten attached to the species, the trees were here in Roemer’s time, even if not in stands as large and dense as they’ve become in our time. The Wildflower Center article you quoted from confirms that: ” It was abundant in central Texas when the earliest European explorers arrived, having existed in the region at least since the Pleistocene.” It’s interesting that cedar sage, which grows in association with Ashe junipers, has the scientific name Salvia roemeriana. In short, I agree with you that it seems unlikely for Roemer not to have encountered Ashe junipers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2016 at 9:05 AM

      • Of course, he had the same problem we do: so many species, so little time. And his Texas was concerned with providing an overview of “the flora, fauna, land, and inhabitants” of the new state. Other writings were more focused on botany. If I counted properly, the index of scientific names in his Texas includes 89 species. Not all are plants: the pelican and horned frog are included, for example. And often a species is mentioned only in passing, as part of a larger view of a place. It would be fun to print out his list, see how many I’ve already found, and go on a hunt for the rest.

        Speaking of lists, I found a very useful set online, on the Armand Bayou volunteers page. Here’s the list of flowering plants found at the nature center. The first six pages are a straightforward list, but the next 180 or so pages contain photos and basic information for each plant. There are lists for grasses and sedges, cultivated plants, and trees and shrubs, too. Very helpful.

        shoreacres

        July 30, 2016 at 9:33 AM

        • That’s a great list to have for a preserve so near to you. I wish I had a similar list, especially with photographs, for some of the places where I hang out in central Texas. Very helpful indeed.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 30, 2016 at 9:49 AM

    • By the way, I’m going to turn things upside down tomorrow with a post featuring an Ashe juniper.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2016 at 9:55 AM

  3. I just remembered: Juniper berries also go into the marinade of one of my favourite German dishes, Sauerbraten.
    Have a great weekend,
    Pit

    Pit

    July 30, 2016 at 8:07 AM

  4. I never suspected that Juniper berries featured in Sauerbraten. No wonder I love it. Junipers are a tonic to my soul.

    melissabluefineart

    July 30, 2016 at 9:44 AM

  5. When we moved in here, I noticed several trees which turned out to be upright growing junipers. This whole neighborhood had been a farm at one time and the trees grew in the pasture. I’ve never tried to make my own gin with the berries.

    Steve Gingold

    August 2, 2016 at 6:34 PM


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