Nobody Likes Junipers

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Juniper trees are the nemesis of many ranchers around here. As a result of the region’s altered fire regime – no more wildfires sweeping through and keeping trees from establishing themselves – Western Junipers (Juniperus occidentalis – I like literal Latin names like this) are encroaching more and more onto rangeland, sucking up water with their taproots and outcompeting understory plants.

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But the truth is, I kind of like ’em, these tough, scrubby little trees. They’re survivors. And they’re not an exotic invasive species – they were always here, it’s just that now there are even more of them, in more places.

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The female cones don’t look like cones at all, but like fleshy little silvery-blue berries. They’re an important food source for fruit-eating birds like robins and waxwings. They’re also where the flavoring in gin comes from. Someone I met at a conference recently told a story about mistaking a bag of juniper berries her boyfriend had left in their freezer for blueberries and baking them into a pie, but I wouldn’t recommend trying that at home.

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The rugged individuals of the tree world. Really, they fit right in around here. And since me secretly liking them won’t actually change whether efforts to eradicate them from rangeland are successful, I’m going to go right on doing it.

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3 thoughts on “Nobody Likes Junipers”

  1. I just yesterday read of a Bosnian beverage named Smreka which possibly could be made with Juniperus occidentalis as well, PFAF list this juniper as having edible cones when ripe, this soft beverage is so simple with just water and a small amount of juniper cones as the ingredients. I’m going to give it a go this fall with Juniperus communis var depressa which is common in my area. Your photos of the junipers and surrounding are great. Is the background in the 1st and 2nd photos limestone? ciao

    1. Hmm – let me know how your smreka comes out! These photos were taken on the same hike as the photos I posted Monday. As far as I know, the light greenish rock is “claystone,” originally deposited as volcanic ash. I don’t know much about geology, though.

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