Juniperus horizontalis (Creeping Juniper)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Cupressaceae (Cypress)
Life cycle:perennial woody
  • State Special Concern
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct

[photo of male strobili] 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.

[photo of female strobili (cultivated species)] Female strobili appear as whitish to reddish, rounded buds, about 1/16 inch long.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of juvenile leaves] 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).

[photo of late season twigs] 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: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] 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.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Goose Garden

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Landscape Alternatives
  • ReWild Native Gardens
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds
  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants

More photos

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?

Posted by: Nancy - Becker County
on: 2016-01-12 09:34:30

I am very familiar with this species having lived in eastern Montana. I have seen it at Tamarac NWR, but will now pay closer attention to exact locations. This species is sometimes associated with natural ponderosa pine regeneration in Montana apparently creating a slightly more moist and cooler micro site for pine seed germination and early survival.

Posted by: Renay - Sherburne County
on: 2020-03-07 22:28:50

A friend thinks I have this on our property, on a west-facing hill of oak savanna. I will keep an eye on it to see if during the growing season it matches the photos and descriptions above.

Posted by: Brent J Silvis - Fertile
on: 2020-09-04 07:36:39

Lots of this in the Sand Hills Recreation Area in Fertile, MN.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.