Juniperus Scopulorum
(Rocky Mountain Juniper)

Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinatae
Family: Cupressaceae
Family Description: Cypress
Key Characteristics:
A slender, graceful, single-stemmed tree up to 15 m tall and the trunk up to l m thick or 2 or more trunks from a single crown with reddish-brown bark; leaves acute or acuminate, 1-1.5 mm long, oppressed, dark green with obscure glands on the back; berries globose, maturing the second season, 1-2 seeded. A valuable tree for ornamental plantings. Moist soil of streams and hills. Alta. To B.C. south to Tex., Ariz., and Nev.
  • leaves acute or acuminate
  • 1-1.5 mm long,
  • oppressed, dark green with obscure glands on the back
  • Mature leaves obtuse or acute to slightly apiculate,
  • juvenile leaves needle-like, often long persistent
  • seed cones bluish purple,
  • glaucous, with age or when rubbed become dark blue,
  • 5-6 mm in diameter,
  • 1, 2 or uncommonly 4 seeded, mature in 2 growing seasons
  • 1, 2 or uncommonly 4 seeds

General Description:
 The Rocky Mountain Juniper or sometimes called River Juniper is usually a columnar, dioecious up to 10 meter tall tree with one main trunk. Occasionally it is somewhat rounded or higher elevations somewhat shrub-like. The bark is usually somewhat reddish in color and as the tree ages it becomes somewhat stringy or fibrous. One way of distinguishing it from the Utah juniper is that the twigs or branchlets are thinner and the leaves are mostly opposite. The leaves on mature trees are scale-like with entire margins. The leaves on juvenile specimens are awl-like and can range from 5-7 millimeters in length. These may remain on those branches until the tree is mature. The berry-like seed cones are smaller than those of the Utah Juniper and are up to 6 millimeters in diameter. When the wax is rubbed off, they become a darker blue rather than copper colored.
 Juvenile specimens are similar to the Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) but does not have jointed leaves with concave upper surface that the common juniper has.
The seed germination is enhanced by removing the fleshy cone. This is often accomplished by going through the digestive tract of birds or mammals. Bighorn sheep, and birds such as Townsend's solitaire feed on this plant. It may live up to become up to 1500 years old.

Similar Species:
Utah Juniper, Common Juniper

Southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, east central Washington , Eastern Oregon, to Montana, Dakotas, Nefvada, Northern Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Western Nebraska.

Coastal islands to dry plains and valleys and lower mountains, usually near streams or wetter soils.

Sometimes used as fence posts and rails because of their straight trunks. Native Americans regarded it as sacred and regarded the smoke from it to be effective in relief from colds, to prevent sickness in general, evil spirits, heal horses and believed that lightening never struck these trees. Native Americans also burned it to purify their homes, for good luck prior to hunting, to stimulate urination, sweating, curing venereal diseases, heart, lung, and kidney problems, and to help digestion and increase appetite.
   Although teas can be made from the berries and leaves, caution should be exercised. People with kidney problems or pregnant women should avoid ingestion. Junipers were used in Europe to induce abortion and were termed "Bastard Killer."

Important State References:
No information available at this time
Photos & information written by Dr. Karl E. Holte,© 2002