The leaves of mature western juniper trees (Juniperus occidentalis) are scale-like and are usually 0.1″ or less in length. These scales are arranged in overlapping opposite pairs or whorled groups of three and clasp the stem along its entire length.
Occasionally I see a western juniper with long needle-like leaves. At first these western junipers with their needle-like leaves confused me. They definitely were not common or dwarf junipers (Juniperus communis), which do have needle-like leaves. References stated that the leaves of young western juniper shoots are sometimes long and sharp. Other sources say the juvenile leaves of very young plants could be 0.2″ to 0.4″ in length, long, sharp and spread out from the stem rather than clasping the stem. However, many of the western junipers with needle-like leaves appeared to be older than “very young”.
An article by Ron Holvorson in “Kalmiopsis” (2013) noted that young trees UNDER 25 YEARS OF AGE could have this very un-juniper appearance. This explains why I was seeing western juniper trees that appeared 10 to 15 years of age with needle-like leaves. Western junipers can be long-lived trees (500 or more years) so I suppose a 25 year old (or less) tree IS a very young tree.
More information on the western juniper was presented in my 12-26-11 post entitled “Western Juniper”. Sierra juniper is another common name for Juniperus occidentalis.
These western junipers are growing in the wildlife area on our property near Lookout CA (Modoc County).