Many of the junipers (Juniperus sp.) are similar thus difficult to differentiate and identify. An exception is the alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana) with its distinctive bark. Resembling alligator skin, the bark of this juniper is dark grey-brown and broken up by crosschecks and furrows into small, flat-topped plates 1″ to 2″ square.
Alligator junipers are native trees that can grow between 50′ and 60′ in height and live up to 800 years. They are found between 4,500’and 9,000′ in the United States Southwest and north and central Mexico.
Alligator juniper leaves are scale-like and less than 1/8″ in length. The leaves are overlapping and usually appressed to the twig.
Alligator juniper trees are most often dioecious (male and female cones on separate trees), but occasionally cones of both sexes occur on the same tree (monoecious). Male pollen cones are small and yellowish. Female alligator juniper cones are berry-like and contain 4 to 6 pointed seeds. The female cones are green or blueish with a white blush (or bloom) when young and mature to a dark reddish color. Female cones take two growing seasons to mature.
Alligator juniper wood is of medium weight, soft, brittle, close-grained and aromatic. Fence posts are made from alligator juniper wood and the wood is also often burned as firewood.
Dr. Samuel Washington Woodhouse (1821-1904), an Army surgeon-naturalist on the Sitgreaves Expedition (1849-1850) from San Antonio to San Diego, collected and described the first specimens of alligator juniper.
These alligator junipers, also commonly known as checkerbark junipers, are growing in the Madera Canyon section of the Coronado National Forest in Arizona.