Rocky Mountain Juniper

Christmas juniper wreath

The Christmas wreath is a tradition that I joyfully create every year. Being new to Idaho I collected Juniperus scopulorum to make a Mountain West style wreath. These Junipers are native to Eastern Idaho and were often used to make fence posts in our valley. I see them growing 10-20 feet tall in the foothills. Perhaps so many of them were cut down for wood that they grow sparsely where I live. In the wreath picture you can see them dotting the hillside in the distance.

One interesting note is that these plants are dioecious. Each plant has either male or female cones. The male pollen cones are at the tips of the branchlets, small and egg shaped. I noticed these as I was collecting wreath material. They were a lovely golden brown color. If you see a juniper with brown tips, it’s not dying, those are male cones! Good accent for a wreath. The female cones are small spherical bluish purple with a waxy coating. They look like berries. A friend ate one and commented ‘tastes like a Christmas tree’!

I always get confused with dioecious vs. monoecious. I know that di refers to two. But does that mean two separate plants or two reproductive organs on the same plant? It’s the former. And monoecious, is that one plant or one reproductive organ per plant? It’s one plant! So I’ll try and remember mono, one plant with everything that it needs to reproduce. Monoecious, all for one, one for all!

With dioecious plants there needs to be at least one male plant to pollinate the fruit-bearing female plants. A few examples of dioecious plants are Junipers, Ginkgos, Holly, Yew, Quaking Aspen and Skimmia.

It’s amazing to look at these trees and realize that they commonly live to over 200 years of age. They know how to endure. The seeds are spread by birds like the Bohemian Waxwing whose digestion aids in seed germination. A great partnership. I hope to plant some Juniperus scopulorum on my property next year. 2023, the year of the Juniper! What’s your favorite Juniper?

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