Encyclopedia Article


These evergreen conifers feature leaves that are like scales rather than the needles associated with pine trees. Junipers are well-adapted to hot, arid environments such as the high desert plains and mountains of the U.S. Southwest due to their extensive root systems. Native Americans, such as the Navajo, have traditionally used juniper to treat a range of maladies, including diabetes. Native Americans have also used juniper berries as a female contraceptive.

Junipers tend to grow and migrate in conjunction with the ebb and flow of pinyon pine stand secession. An over-abundance of junipers encroaching into a stand of pinyon pine indicates long-term drought or other ecosystem disturbances, such as over-grazing. In the U.S., the pinyon-juniper woodland range spans from New Mexico to southeastern California. It extends through the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and higher elevations of the Mohave Desert.

Photo Credit: 

"Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) in Beaver Dam Mountains, Utah, May 20, 2012" by Chris M. Morris.