12 Species of Juniper Trees and Shrubs

California juniper
Joshua Tree National Park/Flickr/CC By 1.0

The junipers include roughly 60 different species of trees and shrubs in the Juniperus genus, within the cypress (Cupressaceae) family of plants. Although come junipers use the work cedar in their common names, these plants are not members of the Cedrus genus. The leaves of these evergreen conifers usually take the form of flattened scales in the mature plants, though they may be needle-like in juvenile plants. Most junipers offer at least some level of drought resistance, making them a good choice in more arid climates, though precautions should be taken in areas prone to wildfires.

Many species are dioecious, meaning that plants produce male or female parts, but not both. It is generally the female plants that produce the colorful berries, which are actually modified cones. The berry/cones of the common juniper (Juniperus communis) provide the flavoring for gin. Juniper fruits can also used be used as a spice in cooking, and they are very attractive to many birds and other forms of wildlife.

Fire Danger

Junipers have a resinous sap that is quite combustible. This is not a species to plant in mass within dense residential areas where there is an ongoing danger of wildfires. They can, however, be an excellent choice as specimen plantings for rocky outcroppings where there is little combustible material in the immediate area.

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    Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana)

    Alligator Juniper
    Susan Dussaman/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    The alligator juniper is named for its distinctive bark that resembles the rough, checkered skin of an alligator. This species can either be a shrub or tree depending on the growing location and conditions. Other common names include checkerbark juniper, oak-barked juniper, thick-barked juniper, western juniper, and mountain cedar. This is a good plant for dry, rocky conditions. 'McFetter' is the most common cultivar used in landscapes; it is used in hedges or for buffer screening.

    • Native Area: central and northern Mexico, Southwestern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 9
    • Height: Up to 60 feet, more typically 20 to 40 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    California Juniper (Juniperus californica)

    California Juniper
    Danita Delimont/Getty Image

    This juniper is usually found as a large shrub in the Southwest, though it can sometimes grow to be a medium-sized tree in the wild. It features scale-like blue-gray leaves and reddish-brown cones. In landscaping, it is used to create wildlife habitats and in drought-tolerant gardening. It is very tolerant of alkaline soils and is often used to provide erosion control on dry slopes. It is also often used in bonsai.

    This species has also been classified as Juniperus cedrosianaJuniperus pyriformis or Juniperus cerrosianus. Another common name for this shrub is desert white cedar.

    • Native Area: Southwest U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Height: 10 to 15 feet; occasionally 35 feet or more
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis)

    Chinese juniper
    Kwhisky / Getty Images

    One variety of the Chinese juniper ('Toruloso') is known as the Hollywood juniper. As it matures it creates an intriguing twisted form that works well as a specimen plant. There are many other varieties composed of different shapes and colors. The leaves on Chinese juniper are needle-like when the plants are young, but assume the shape of scales as the plant matures. This is one of the junipers with good tolerance for urban conditions, but it does not like wet soils.

    • Native Area: Japan and China
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Height: Varies greatly depending on variety; many are groundcovers and shrubs
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)

    Common juniper

     

    AdamRadosavljevic / Getty Images

    As the name suggests, this juniper shrub is commonly found throughout much of the world. It grows well in both alkaline and acidic soils, as well as adapting to many locations, such as windy sites. This plant can take many forms depending on its environment. Some cultivars are low-growing shrubs suitable for use as ground covers, while the species form may take the form of small upright trees. This is a rare juniper that has needle-like leaves, rather than scales.

    J. communis is so common that it carries many different regional common names, including dwarf juniper, prostrate juniper, mountain common juniper, old field common juniper, ground juniper, creeping juniper, and carpet juniper.

    • Native Area: North America, Europe, northern Asia, Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Height: Varies by cultivar The shrub usually matures to around 15 feet tall; it can sometimes reach 30 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 05 of 12

    Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

    Creeping juniper
    F.D.Richards/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    Creeping juniper lives up to its name and works well as a groundcover. It is very adaptable and can handle many different soils and situations. The leaves begin needle-like, but becomes scales when the plants mature. The cones are blue-white berries with a waxy coating. There are more than 100 cultivars of this plant available, including varieties with yellow foliage. Regionally, this plant may be also be known as trailing juniper or creeping Savin juniper.

    • Native Area: Northern U.S., Canada, Alaska
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Height: 1 to 2 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    Drooping Juniper (Juniperus flaccida)

    Dropping juniper

     

    MichelR45 / Getty Images

    Drooping juniper gets its name because of the way that the branchlets droop down. As juveniles, these upright trees have needle-like leaves that become flattened scales in the mature plants. This tree has reddish-brown or gray bark that sheds in strips and the cones are greenish berries that mature into purplish-brown.

    • Native Area: Texas, Mexico, Guatemala
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8b to 11
    • Height: 35 to 40 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

    Eastern red cedar


    Philip Nealey / Getty Images

    Red cedar is form of juniper that is especially fragrant, a quality that is sometimes used to repel insects (the wood is often used in cedar chests). This is an upright tree with dark blue-green scale-like foliage. The bark is gray to reddish-brown and often shreds in vertical strips; the trunk is sometimes fluted at the bottom. It is used as a specimen tree or in large screen plantings. Do not plant this tree near apple trees, as it is a host to cedar-apple rust fungus. Unlike many junipers, this tree has a fairly good tolerance for moisture, though it does not like to soak in boggy soil.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
    • Height: 30 to 40 feet tall; occasionally to 65 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    Greek Juniper (Juniperus exelsa)

    Greek juniper

     

    possum1961 / Getty Images

    The Greek juniper is a large shrub or tree that is often found growing alongside the stinking juniper (Juniperus foetidissima)—a species with a similar appearance but which is lighter green in color. These hardy trees can even grow on the sides of rocky cliffs. Like many junipers, the leaves on juvenile Greek junipers are needles that become flattened scales as the tree matures. The foliage is gray-green in color, and the trunks can be quite massive—up to 6 feet in diameter. The cones on female trees are purple-blue berries.

    • Native Area: Eastern Mediterranean
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 20 to 65 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 09 of 12

    One-Seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma)

    One-Seed Juniper

     

    ES3N / Getty Images

    This juniper species is a large shrub or tree that usually has multiple stems with a dense-rounded crown. The leaves on mature plants are flattened scales, and the cones are dark-blue berries with a waxy white coating. The bark is gray-brown, shedding in narrow vertical strips that expose reddish wood underneath. The plant gets its name because the cone/berry typically contains just one seed. (Other common names include single-seed juniper and cherrystone juniper.) This tree is now quite rare over much of its native territory in Mexico, but it is very common in New Mexico and other portions of the U.S. Southwest. This plant is rarely planted as a landscape specimen, but the wood is often used for fence posts and other purposes.

    • Native Area: Southwestern U.S., Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Height: usually 6 to 20 feet, sometimes taller
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum)

    Rocky Mountain Juniper
    Tony Frates/Getty Images

    This is a close relative to the eastern red cedar, andit is sometimes known as the Mountain red cedar, Rocky Mountain cedar, or Colorada red cedar. The Rocky Mountain juniper is a small- to medium-sized tree that usually grows a pyramidal shape. The leaves are scale-like in the mature trees, and the cones are the familiar blue-green berries with waxy white coating found in many junipers. 'Skyrocket' is an especially narrow variety that is bluish-green in color. This is one of the juniper species that is particularly susceptible to cedar-apple rust.

    • Native Area: Rocky mountain regions of western North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Height: Cultivated varieties usually 5 to 15 feet; may grow to 60 feet in the wild
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma or J. utahensis)

    Utah juniper
    Michael Weber/Getty Images

    The city of Cedar City, Utah, and Cedar Breaks National Monument got their names because of these shrubby trees, which grow abundantly in Utah and do well in its alkaline soils. You can also find this juniper growing in Arizona and other areas of the western U.S., where it may be known as bigberry juniper or desert juniper. This tree has foliage that is a lighter yellow-green than what is typical of junipers. The mature foliage is scale-like, and the cone/fruit is bluish brown. The stems and branches are quite thick, and the gray-brown bark may exfoliate in thin strips.

    • Native Area: Western U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Height: 10 to 20 feet tall; occasionally 25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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    Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis)

    Western juniper
    Tyler Hulett / Getty Images

    The western juniper (also known as the Sierra juniper) provides food for a variety of wildlife throughout the year, especially birds such as cedar waxwings that feast on the berries. The wood was used for many different tasks during the pioneer era. This plant generally grows as a large shrub or small tree, with its growth habit determined largely by the conditions in which it grows. It is widely distributed in the wild, but is almost never planted as a landscape specimen.

    • Native Area:  Mountains of California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington
    • USDA Zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 15 to 30 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun

Junipers and Apple Trees Do Not Mix

Do not plant a juniper in your yard if there are apple trees in your yard or within a mile or two. There is a fungus called cedar-apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) that makes its home on juniper trees first, then transfers to apples, crabapples, hawthorn, and quince, causing damage to both plants. The eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is the usual host on the juniper side, though many of the other species are also susceptible to at least some degree.