Juniperus communis can be an erect tree, a waist-high shrub or a prostrate shrub in form. Depending on the growth pattern, some taxonomists separate this species into subspecies. Others simply classify all the forms as J communis, as I will in this and other posts. While hiking along the Bristlecone Trail in Great Basin National Park (Nevada), Leonard and I saw many prostrate forms of J communis, also commonly known as dwarf juniper.
A circumpolar species of the Northern Hemisphere, dwarf juniper grows on stony, wooded slopes between 6,400 and 11,000 feet.
Wildlife eats dwarf juniper sparingly, however, the berries are consumed by many mammals and birds.
Dwarf juniper bark has shallow furrows separating thin, papery, reddish-brown scales. The leaves are awl-like and set in whorls of three. These stiff, spine-tipped leaves have a wide strip of stomatal bloom on the upper surface while the undersides are shiny, dark green and convex. The berries (cones) are spherical, berrylike and bluish-black beneath a white bloom. Dwarf juniper berries are sweet, fleshy and mature in three years.
The Utah juniper of my last post (“Utah Juniper” on 12-10-2019) and the dwarf juniper – two Nevada junipers that look very different.