Sierra Juniper- Juniperus occidentalis ssp. australis
Distribution: Within the species Juniperus occidentalis there are two geographically separated subspecies: Juniperus occidentalis, ssp. occidentalis (Western Juniper) and Juniperus occidentalis ssp. australis (Sierra Juniper). Western Juniper is found in the northern part of the Juniperus occidentalis range, from south-central and southeastern Washington to eastern Oregon, southwestern Idaho, extreme northwest Nevada, and very northeastern California, at elevations of 4,000–5,000 ft. Sierra Juniper, the more southernly subspecies, is concentrated in the southern portion of northeastern California in the Sierra range, just into Nevada, and in a southern patch in the San Bernardino Mountains at higher elevations of 6,600–10,000 ft.
Ecosystem: Sierra Juniper is usually found scattered on arid, bare, rocky slopes, exposed to severe winds, along with Lodgepole Pine, Red Fir, Mountain Hemlock, Jeffrey Pine, Western White Pine, and White Bark Pine. Western Juniper lives in less extreme habitats, sometimes in forests of other Western Junipers and also with Ponderosa Pine.
Maximum Age: About 3,000 years for ssp. australis.
Maximum Height and Girth: Sierra Juniper reaches a height of 85 ft (25.9 m), and up to 12.7 ft (3.9 m) in diameter.
Also Known As: Yellow Juniper.
Distinctive Characteristics: The bark is smooth and pinkish-brown when young, becoming gray and flaking with age. Eventually it becomes fibrous and shredding, furrowed, and cinnamon-brown, exfoliating in thin strips. The contrasting colors of the reddish bark and the compact crowns of dark-green, scaled foliage—along with the twisting limbs and branches and sometimes buttressed base—give the Sierra Juniper a striking, majestic character as it ages. Like the Bristlecone Pine, this tree is genetically disposed to form gnarly limbs and branches—probably an adaptation to create the tensile strength that allows it to withstand high winds and snow weight. In very exposed positions at high altitude, Sierra Junipers can assume a krummholz (bonsai-like) habit, growing low to the ground even when old, and forming a wide base. Because they do not form reliable annual rings, exact ages cannot be determined. Fruits are rough, waxy, pea-size, flesh-covered seeds, frosted blue-gray to blackish-purple.
Animal Community: The needles and seeds for both subspecies, depending upon region, are an important cover for several birds and mammals. The seeds are a significant source of winter food for birds such as the American robin, Townsend’s solitaire, phainopepla, blue grouse, cedar waxwing, Lewis’s woodpecker, northern flicker, scrub jay, and Steller’s jay. Seeds and needles are browsed to some extent, especially in winter, by mule deer, mountain cottontails, porcupines, black-tailed jackrabbits, elk, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, deer mice, yellow-pine chipmunks, golden-mantled ground squirrels, and the dusky-footed woodrat, as well as domesticated livestock.
Medicine: The berries, bark, needles, and wood were all used traditionally in a variety of decoctions, infusions, poultices, and burning smoke preparations. Parts of the tree were used as an anticonvulsive (White Mountain Apache). It has also been used as a disinfectant, painkiller, antihemorrhagic, antirheumatic, antiparasitic, blood medicine, and as a gastrointestinal, gynecological, kidney, pulmonary, and veterinary aid, as well as a treatment for malaria (Paiute). It was also used as a burn dressing, dermatologic and kidney aid, and heart medicine, as well as a remedy for toothache (Shoshone). It was used as a painkiller and disinfectant (Washoe). It was used as a cough, flu, and cold remedy (White Mountain Apache, Washoe, Paiute). Parts were also used as a diuretic (Paiute, Shoshone). Parts were used for treating small pox and venereal disease (Shoshone, Paiute, White Mountain Apache).
Food: The berries were eaten fresh or dried (White Mountain Apache, Miwok, Paiute, Northern Paiute).
Fiber: The bark was used as a building material for housing (Paiute). Softened bark was woven into clothing and was rolled, coiled, and sewn with sinew to make sandal soles. The root fiber was woven into twined baskets (Pomo). It was combined with other plants to make a dye for buckskin (Navajo).
Tools and Objects: The wood was used to make bows (Klamath, Paiute). The wood was also made into the base for a fire drill and the bark for tinder; they also used the leaves stuffed in buckskin to make a ball like the one used for a lacrosse type game (Paiute).
Art and Ceremony: Drum frames were made out of strips of the wood (Paiute). The wood was made into the wand used in the War Dance, and branchlets were made into prayer sticks (Navajo).
Modern Uses: Historically, the wood has been used for firewood, charcoal, corrals, poles, simple shelters, and posts. While Juniper wood is extremely durable and resistant to rot, it has not found widespread commercial value as lumber because of its irregular bark and growth pattern. The wood has, however, been used for products such as paneling, particleboard, and veneer inlay, as well as for smaller wooden products such as toys, sporting goods, jewelry boxes, closet liners, clocks, pencils, pipe bowls, and decorative items. Boughs of many species of Juniper are used for Christmas wreaths. The aromatic essential oils are used as flavoring and scenting agents in medicines, beverages, condiments, aerosols, insecticides, soaps, and men’s colognes. The berries of other Juniper species are harvested to make gin, and the foliage of Western Juniper has been added to chicken feed to produce gin-flavored eggs!
Threats: Not threatened.