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The Juniper

UK Garden Centre - Information on the Juniper

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Family Pinaceae
Juniperus communis

To appreciate the variety of forms assumed by the Juniper according to the elevation at which it grows, it should be seen on slopes like those of the North Downs in Surrey – one portion of the range at Mickleham is named Juniper Hill. In the valleys it may be found as a small shapely tree, higher up the slopes as a pyramidal shrub, and as higher and more exposed positions are reached, the Juniper gradually dwindles to a low, shapeless bush. This, however, must not be confounded with a distinct variety to which the name nana has been applied; it differs from the type in having shorter and broader overlapping leaves, with curved tips.
Var. nana is confined to the mountains of the north of our islands, and ascends to 2,700 feet, which is 300 feet higher than is recorded of the type.
The Juniper is seldom more than a shrub a few feet in height, though it occasionally develops into a small tree from ten to twenty feet high, with a girth of five feet. It has a fibrous red bark, which flakes off like that of the Yew.
The leaves are shaped like a cobbler’s awl, rigid, and end in sharp points. They have thickened margins, the upper sides concave, and they are arranged round the branches in whorls of three.
The male and female flowers are on separate trees. The male catkin may be known in May by its numerous anthers and pale yellow pollen. The female catkins will be found in the axils of the leaves, and resemble buds. The scales are fleshy, and after fertilization the upper ones slowly develop into the form of a berry, which has a few undeveloped scales as its base. They do not ripen until the following year, when they are blue-black, covered with a fine glaucous bloom. They have a pungent flavour, which is utilized in concocting gin. The ‘berries’ have long been known as a stimulant for the kidneys.
The Virginian Juniper (Juniperus virginiana) or “Red Cedar” as it is called on the American continent, is a much larger plant, which is frequently seen in our parks and gardens. It varies in habit, and may be low and spreading, bush-like, or tall and tapering, thirty to forty feet high. Its leaves are in threes, like those of our native species, but the three are united by their bases. The juvenile foliage is needle-like resembling that of the Common Juniper, but the adult leaves are scale-like. Both types of leaves are found on the tree at the same time.
It is with the red heartwood of this tree that our “cedar” pencils are covered, large quantities of the timber being imported for the purpose.
The Virginian Juniper was mentioned by John Evelyn in 1664, and is believed to have been introduced by him from North America.


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