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.
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.
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.
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.