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Plants of the Western Slope May 31, 2017

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Photo by Al Schneier© Juniper leaves

Cedar/Juniper Trees

What's in a name? Very often, our identity. Imagine Cedaredge being Juniper-edge, or Cedar City being Juniper City. How about Cedar Avenue being Juniper Avenue?

I've long known that it should be juniper, not cedar, but it certainly sounds strange and uncomfortable. My curiosity led me to the Oxford Dictionary of English which traces this misuse all the way back to about 1000 A.D. The term "cedar" seemed more satisfying and has been applied to all the pine trees, all of the junipers and even to a spruce tree. They were often "named" in admiration of the famous Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus lebani), with inch-long needles that come in clusters, not at all like our "cedars."

But the "cedars" here on the Western Slope are really junipers. The low-growing, shrubby Common Juniper in our high country is Juniperus communis, but the Rocky Mountain Juniper, found with Aspen, is Juniperus scopulorum (lover of rocky places), and the ones growing around Cedaredge are, properly, Juniperus osteosperma (meaning bone-like seed). I know that the name represents the tree, but when I become entangled in the propriety of names, I'm often discouraged. So, for now a cedar is a cedar!

In our junipers, (cedars) the needles are reduced to scales that overlap, like the shingles on a roof. But the real clue is the fruit or seed. Think of a pine cone with its woody segments and then think of a juniper berry (ever heard of a "cedar berry?"). The berry isn't really a "berry" at all like a strawberry or a blueberry. The next time you're around a juniper/cedar tree, try taking one of the bluish "berries" and scrape the surface with your fingernail. You'll find that the bluish coating comes off and that there are woody, scale-like segments underneath. In short, the juniper berry is really a woody cone with a bluish covering.

There are about 70 species of juniper worldwide with 13 native to the northern hemisphere. Our aromatic junipers are known as a medicinal plant as well as providing clothing, ceremonial implements, fence posts and tools. So we have fascinating, variable tree.

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Surface Creek
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Evelyn Horn, Plants of the Western Slope
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