Juniperus horizontalis (Creeping Juniper)
|Also known as:|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||sun; dry, sandy or rocky soil; dunes, outcrops, rocky slopes, stream banks|
|Bloom season:||April - May|
|Plant height:||6 to 10 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate shrubs at the tips of 2nd year branches. Male strobili are oval-oblong, 1/10 to 1/8 inch long with yellowish brown scales holding the yellow pollen sacs.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are in opposite pairs at right angles to the pair above and below. Two types are present: juvenile leaves on seedlings and fast growing shoots are narrow, awl-like, 1/8 to ¼ inch long with sharp spreading tips, they do not overlap the adjacent pairs. Leaves on slower growing branchlets are lance-oval, 1/8 inch or less in length, tightly appressed to the stem and overlapping those above them (see female flower image above).
Leaf color is typically dark green during growing season, turning bronzy brown to reddish purple in late season through the winter, with older bark turning brown and peeling off in thin strips. Leaves persist 4 to 5 years. There is no central trunk but rather multiple creeping, spreading branches with erect branchlets. Branches are no more than ¾ inch in diameter but up to several yards long, can produce vegetative roots where in contact with the soil and may produce sizable continuous colonies.
Fruit is an irregularly round berry-like cone, about ¼ inch in diameter, bluish green when immature, turning dark frosty blue when mature in about 2 years. Cones remain closed with 3 to 5 seeds inside.
Creeping Juniper is intolerant of both shade and fire, inhabiting open, dry, sandy sites like rock outcrops, sand dunes and sand barrens. According to the DNR, loss of this habitat to human activities and invading overstory species, in part due to fire suppression, has caused a steady decline in its presence throughout the state and in 1996 it was listed as a Special Concern species. While its leaves, flowers, fruits and small branchlet clusters are nearly identical to Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), their growth forms are as different as any two species could be. They are even noted to hybridize on rare occasions - something that would be interesting to see. Unlike our other two native junipers, Creeping Juniper does not readily establish naturally in human impacted sites, though also unlike the other two species, there are many horticultural selections that can be found throughout urban landscapes.
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- Creeping Juniper plant
- Creeping Juniper plant
- a mat of Creeping Juniper
- fruiting Creeping Juniper
- elongating branch with erect branchlets
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Houston, Kittson, Polk and Winona counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?