Skip to content

Tree Tuesday: Meet the Junipers of Badlands

Badlands National Park is not famous for its trees.  But in the winter months, when the prairie grasses are dormant and dry, the park’s dark green junipers stand out against a landscape dominated by shades of tan.

dark green junipers against the tan formations in Badlands National Park

Junipers line a shelf on an otherwise steep slope in Badlands National Park.

range map for Rocky Mountain juniper



The Rocky Mountain juniper, Juniperus scopulorum, is one of eleven tree-sized juniper species found in the U.S., and has a wide but scattered range (left).  As its name suggests, Rocky Mountain juniper grows here and there along the Rockies, all the way from New Mexico and Arizona up into Canada.  The tree isn’t exclusively montane, however.  It also appears on the Great Plains and is one of the few trees that can be found in Badlands National Park.  Here in the Dakotas, Rocky Mountain juniper often hybridizes with its close cousin, eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana).

In fact, the South Dakota junipers are more commonly called “cedars.”  The headquarters and main visitor center at Badlands National Park are located at Cedar Pass.  Several of the trees grow right in front of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, and the nearby Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, a 1/2-mile loop, is one of the best places to get up close to junipers in the park.

If they’re usually called cedars, why do I insist on referring to them as junipers?  True cedars are botanically different from junipers, and red-cedar is actually a juniper.  This is one of those cases where common names muddle matters, and where thinking in terms of scientific names helps: both Rocky Mountain juniper and eastern red-cedar, you may have noticed, are in the genus Juniperus.  There are a few North American trees that we call cedars, like northern white cedar, a.k.a. arborvitae, a.k.a. Thuja occidentalis.  But the true cedars are in the genus Cedrus and are native to Asia, the Middle East, and north Africa.

eastern white cedar cones

Eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) cones. Photo from Winnebago Conservation Photography.

Why does it matter?  In botany, one of the most consistent ways to figure out which plant species are most closely related is to compare their reproductive structures.  Things like leaf shape are not reliable indicators of taxonomic relationships.  The North American “cedars,” like our friend Thuja occidentalis, have little woody cones, shown on the right.  The true Cedrus cedars have cute disintegrating cones much like those on a fir tree.

And the Juniperus trees have a bluish, waxy “berry” that is actually a fleshy cone.  I’m going to ask you to dig deep in your memory and think back to high school biology and the unit on plants.  Remember learning about angiosperms and gymnosperms?  The angiosperms are the flowering plants, and their seeds develop inside an ovary; these plants can produce real berries.  The gymnosperms are the “naked seed” plants, ones that tuck the seeds in amongst the sheltering scales of a cone.

Juniperus is a gymnosperm.  Its cones just happen to have unusually beefed-up scales that fuse into a spherical thing that looks for all the world like a berry.

closeup of juniper "berries"

The bluish “berries” on a juniper aren’t berries at all. They’re fleshy cones.  But you can call them berries–I won’t get mad.  In fact, I’m going to refer to them as berries myself.

Notice in the picture above that some of the berries are light blue, and others have darkened significantly.  The dark ones are a year older.  This is an important clue in trying to distinguish Rocky Mountain juniper from eastern red-cedar, because the cones of Rocky Mountain juniper need two years to mature.  If you see two age classes of cone—as on the tree above—that’s strong evidence that you’re looking at Rocky Mountain juniper.

Here’s something else fun.  If you come to Badlands National Park and take a walk on the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, you’ll notice that some of the junipers are heavily burdened with berries, while other trees have none.  What gives?

Rocky Mountain juniper is dioecious, which means that it has separate male and female plants!  The berries only develop on the girl trees.

peeling bark and bluish "berries" of Rocky Mountain juniper

The peeling bark and scaly evergreen leaves of junipers make them easy to recognize.  And if you happen to see those bluish berries, you know you’re looking at a female tree!

Junipers grow in clusters on slumps like Cliff Shelf and Deer Haven, but they also appear here and there as solitary trees on the prairie.

Dark green juniper against yellow prairie grasses and blue sky

A lone juniper on the prairie in Badlands National Park.

Whether alone or in groups, junipers make good wildlife habitat.  That lonely tree above had abundant deer sign around it, and appeared to be a favored bedding-down spot.  Cliff Shelf and other concentrations of junipers attract not just deer but also birds, including wintering robins and Townsend’s solitaires, as I discussed in a previous post.  The trees provide food for animals, especially in the winter months.  They provide shelter at all times of year, serving as a much-sought-after windbreak.

So, if you come to visit Badlands National Park, take a few moments to appreciate these hardy trees.  They have an important role to play in the prairie ecosystem … and they’re super-cool in their own right.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. audreydclark #

    Lovely, lovely once again Cathy Bell. Oh, how you make me miss the junipers of the West! Their dioeciousness! Their fleshy cones! Not to mention their pungent, refreshing smell and endearing monotony on a long prairie drive. Somehow they give the landscape more dimension, dotting the rolling yellow hills near and far, and yet they are easy to get lost among because you can’t see beyond the next juniper, even though they are not all that close to each other. Thanks for inciting some nostalgia. Your photographs are also really nice.

    January 29, 2013
    • I think I need to go about life exclaiming, “Oh, the dioeciousness!” more often. Thanks for the kind words and for making me smile!

      I can’t believe I wrote a whole post about junipers without mentioning the smell! I’m so glad you mentioned that.

      January 29, 2013
  2. FeyGirl #

    SO fascinating… and so very lovely!! They’re such an interesting species. What wonderful images to illustrate your as-always great info. I learned something about cedar v. juniper, which of course I had absolutely NO IDEA about… :)

    January 30, 2013
    • Think how informed you’ll be when you travel to the prairie! You’ll be able to point at the trees and exclaim, “Oh, the dioeciousness!” (Okay, now I’m just being silly.)

      January 30, 2013
      • FeyGirl #

        Hahhaha!!! Of course I’d say that crazy word soooooo slowly (and incorrectly).

        January 31, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Juniperus communis | Find Me A Cure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,740 other followers

Build a website with
%d bloggers like this:

The maximum daily dosage is 1600 micrograms Buy Pulmicort The usual recommended dosage is 200 micrograms twice daily

This helps to improve your condition and to prevent exacerbations (periodic worsening of symptoms) from occurring Buy Spiriva The recommended dose for adults is 1 capsule to be inhaled, once a day

Phenergan (generic name: Promethazine; brand names: Promethegan / Romergan / Fargan / Farganesse / Prothiazine / Avomine / Atosil / Receptozine / Lergigan) is a potent antihistamine with additional anti-emetic and sedative/calming properties Buy Phenergan Nausea and VomitingAntiemetics should not be used in vomiting of unknown etiology in children and adolescents

)One bottle contains 60 capsules Buy Haridra It is a pure herb extract in capsule form

Relief of symptoms associated with perennial allergic rhinitis due to allergens such as dust mites, animal dander and molds in adults and children 6 months of age and older Buy Zyrtec It provides effective, 24-hour relief of indoor and outdoor allergy symptoms, lasting up to 24 hours

Advair is the only COPD product that contains an anti-inflammatory and a long-acting bronchodilator working together to help improve lung function Buy Advair Advair is the only COPD product that contains an anti-inflammatory and a long-acting bronchodilator working together to help improve lung function

Vasaka (Adhatoda zeylanica) is a himalaya natural product Buy Vasaka It is a pure herb extract in capsule form

Allegra will work better if it is not taken with fruit juices such as orange, grapefruit, or apple juice Buy Allegra If you miss a dose of Allegra, take the missed dose as soon as you remember it

Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand Buy Ventolin Salbutamol Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand

Astelin can be used by patients as young as 5 years of age, depending on what type of rhinitis they have been diagnosed with Buy Astelin For those with seasonal allergic rhinitis, patients from 5 to 11 years of age should administer 1 spray in each nostril twice daily

Ciclohale inhalers are available as 80 mcg inhalers containing 80 mcg of ciclesonide per each puff and 160 mcg inhalers containing 160 mcg of ciclesonide per each puff Buy Ciclohale Ciclohale inhalers are available as 80 mcg inhalers containing 80 mcg of ciclesonide per each puff and 160 mcg inhalers containing 160 mcg of ciclesonide per each puff

Buy Ketotifen Tablets Ketotifen (brand names include: Asthafen) in a tablet form is used to reduce asthma attacks and asthma symptoms

Beclomethasone (brand names include: Beclate / Qvar / Vanceril) belongs to a group of medicines known as synthetic glucocorticoids Buy Beclomethasone Inhaler The usual starting dosage is:100 to 200 mcg per day in two divided doses for mild asthma200 to 400 mcg per day in two divided doses for moderate asthma100 to 200 mcg per day in two divided doses for severe asthmaThe maximum recommended dosage is 800 mcg per day in divided doses

The usual Symbicort dosage is two puffs in the morning and two puffs in the evening Buy Symbicort Symbicort (generic name: budesonide / formoterol fumarate dihydrate) is an asthma controller

Take your medicine exactly as directed Buy Tavist Tavist is used for treating allergy and common cold symptoms

Store Claritin in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light Buy Claritin Take Claritin exactly as directed

Buy Theophylline Theophylline (brand names include: OD Phillin / Elixophyllin / Theo-24 / Theochron / Uniphyl) belongs to a class of drugs called bronchodilators

To help control your nasal allergy symptoms or to treat your nasal polyps, use Nasonex exactly the way your doctor has instructed Buy Nasonex Nasonex can treat outdoor and year-round indoor nasal allergy symptoms in patients 2 years of age and older

Singulair may be taken on an empty stomach or with food Buy Singulair Follow the directions for using this medicine provided by your doctor

Each Koflet pack consists of 10 lozenges Buy Koflet The usual dose is 1 lozenge taken 3-4 times daily

Follow the directions for using this medicine provided by your doctor Buy Benadryl Use your medicine exactly as directed

Clarinex is also approved to treat the ongoing itching and rash due to hives from unknown causes Buy Clarinex Clarinex may be taken with or without food

Buy Triohale The usual recommended dosage is two puffs once daily

Use Flonase Nasal Spray exactly as directed Buy Flonase Using a finger from your other hand, press against the opposite nostril to close it off

One bottle contains 150 metered doses Buy Rhinocort If you miss a dose of Rhinocort Spray, skip the missed dose and go back to your regular dosing schedule

Indications include: allergy symptoms including sneezing and runny nosehivesXyzal is used for the relief of symptoms associated with allergies (seasonal and year-round) Buy Xyzal Xyzal is also used for the treatment of itching and swelling of the skin (chronic idiopathic urticaria, hives)

Xopenex (generic name: levosalbutamol / levalbuterol; brand names include: Levolin) is a bronchodilator Buy Xopenex Xopenex (generic name: levosalbutamol / levalbuterol; brand names include: Levolin) is a bronchodilator

If you miss a dose of Combivent Aerosol, take it as soon as possible Buy Combivent Combivent works by relaxing and widening the air passages, which helps you breathe more easily

Atrovent should be kept in a cool, dry place at room temperature Buy Atrovent Atrovent is indicated for maintenance treatment of bronchospasm associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema and when used in combination with other inhaled medicines, for asthma

Ventolin inhaler is called a 'reliever puffer' as it provides quick relief from sudden asthma attacks Buy Ventolin For treatment or prevention of sudden asthma symptoms, the usual dosage for adults and children 4 years of age and older is 2 puffs repeated every 4 to 6 hours; in some patients, 1 puff every 4 hours may be enough

Periactin may be used for other purposes Buy Periactin

Inform your doctor before taking this medicine, if you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding, have any illnesses or conditions Buy Relent Each tablet contains Cetirizine 5 mg and Ambroxol 60 mg