Characteristics of California Juniper Tree (Juniperus californica) in the Wild

Juniperus californica
The California juniper is a species of juniper tree native to southwestern North America. As the name implies, the tree is abundant in California, although its reach also extends to Baja California, not far into the Great Basin in southern Nevada and to northwest Arizona.

In California, this tree is found in the Peninsular Ranges, the Transverse Ranges, the California Coast Ranges, the foothills of the Sacramento Valley, the Sierra Nevada, and in areas with elevations higher than the mountains of the Mojave Desert.

California juniper is used as a traditional Native American medicinal tree, and as a food source by indigenous California communities, including the Cahuilla people, the Kumeyaay (Diegueno) people, and the Ohlone people. They collect California juniper berries to eat fresh or grind them to make baked goods.

The California juniper is widely cultivated as an ornamental garden tree or as a hemp landscape design. This tree is very tolerant of alkaline soils and can provide erosion control on dry slopes. The California juniper is also a popular species for bonsai.


Characteristics of California Juniper Leaf

Juniperus californica Leaf
Source : Hunt

The leaves are bluish-gray, opposite, and pair 3 in circles. Adult leaves are scales, 1-5 mm long at shoots, and 1-1.5 mm wide. Juvenile leaves (only on saplings) are needle-like and 5-10 mm long.


Characteristics of California Juniper Fruit

Juniperus californica Fruit
Source : Hunt

The fruit is berry-shaped, 7-13 mm in diameter, when young it is bluish brown with a whitish wax and when old turns reddish-brown. Each fruit contains one seed (rarely two or three). California juniper berries ripen in about 8-9 months.

California juniper is mostly dioecious, producing fruit from only one sex, but about 2% of its trees have both sexes on the same tree.


Characteristics of California Juniper Tree

Juniperus californica Tree
Source : Tree National Park

California juniper grows as a shrub or small tree that reaches a height of 3-8 meters, but (rarely up to 10 meters). The bark is pale gray, thin, rough, and looks like it’s torn/crushed. The shoots are quite thick compared to most junipers, with a diameter of between 1.5 and 2 mm.

This tree is still closely related to the Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperm) but different in that the Utah juniper is mostly unisexual. Besides, the cones take longer to mature (about 18-24 months) and are also very cold tolerant.


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