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The western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is one of those little brushy-looking trees that folks in the Pacific coast states see scattered about on the east (and drier) sides of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, and in some inland ranges such as the Ochoco mountains of Oregon.  Occurring close to much taller species such as the ponderosa pine and the jeffrey pine, the rather scruffy-looking Juniperus occidentalis gets little notice, except perhaps by gin afficinadoes.  But in fact it is one of the most remarkable of trees.

The Bennett Juniper
      Image 1: The Bennett Juniper © outdoorPDK, limited reuse
      licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Image 1 shows the Bennett Juniper, in the Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County, California.  This specimen is the largest known living juniper, and is of the subspecies australis.  Some (but not all) western junipers have male and female sexes, which in the botany world is called "dioecious".  The Bennett juniper is a female.

The site of the Bennett tree is at 8,400 feet elevation.  When last measured in 1983, it was 86 feet high, and 40 feet around at the 4.5 foot mark.  See here for a dramatic photo showing the size of this tree.  It is estimated to be at least 3,000 years old, and maybe older than that.  There are other large old junipers in the vicinity of this tree.  

Here is a video  interview of Mr. Ken Brunges, one of the juniper's summer resident caretakers, giving a fine on-site presentation about the tree.  And here is an article from 2007 about Mr. Brunges and his dedication to the protection of this tree and the area around it.  And here is the link to Panoramio with site location and more photos.

Cemetery in Winter
      Image 2: Cemetery amid juniper forest in Deschutes County
      Oregon © Greg Harness, limited reuse per CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Most juniper specimens never get as large as the Bennett juniper, with mature trees being generally 4 to 10 m (13 to 33 ft) high.  The tree grows slowly and lives a long time.  Old growth stands in Oregon (subspecies occidentalis) are thought to be 200 to 400 years old, and as shown by the Bennett specimen, the species appears to be capable of living for 2000 years or more in the right conditions.

Fortunately for the species, the western juniper is consider to have little commercial value.  It can be made into fence posts and carved into knick-knacks, but overall there is no lumbering pressure on the tree.  

Here's an Oregon State University report (.PDF) that tells you everything you need to know about the occidentalis subspecies.  

Juniper invasion!
There a serious concern that juniper forests (also called juniper savannah, depending on the density of the trees) are expanding into areas previously dominated by sage brush.  These are called "post-settlement" junipers.  

One reason for the expansion of the juniper is thought to be the control of wildfires which previously had killed the young juniper.  This can have a lot of negative effects, primarily arising from the juniper's ability to suck up all water from the ground, or, when the junipar canopy becomes more complete, block the limited rainfall (12 to 14 inches a year) from reaching the ground, preventing the establishment of soil-holding grasses and undergrowth.  Here's a video which describes this issue:

And here's a thoughtful follow up video regarding juniper control which includes simple cutting and planned fires.  

And just for fun, here's a video of a song that was a big hit when i was kid, possibly the only one ever written with "juniper" in the title, by Donovan:

Well, that's all for now.  What do you think?  Please feel free to post anything even remotely botanical you wish.

Pax.

Originally posted to Plan 9 from Oregon on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 07:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Community Spotlight.

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