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A guide to distinguishing Texas cedar trees (Juniperus species)

If you are a Texan, you’re likely to be familiar with at least one cedar tree species. What we call “cedars” here in Texas are actually members of the juniper genus (Juniperus spp.). If you find yourself wondering “what cedar species is this?”, here is a simple guide to Texas junipers.

Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei)

Growth form: mostly shrub-like, globe shaped

Distinctive character(s): whip leaf glands hemispherical or oval, leaves on end of branches do not seem like a string of beads. Mature leaves a dark grayish green. Ultimate twigs branching 25-40 degrees. Distribution often follows the Balcones escarpment. 

Berries/cones: Pink and maturing to blue with gray coating. Flesh is succulent and each cone contains 1-2 seeds.

Resprouting: No

Areas of Texas: Central Texas and hill country along Balcones escarpment, West Texas.

Ashe juniper is an infamous encroacher, and is sometimes falsely called an invasive species. However, its overabundance is often attributable to fire suppression and overgrazing.


Redberry juniper (Juniperus coahuilensis)

 

Growth form: mostly tree-like

Distinctive character(s): long whip leaf glands. Found on rocky, infertile soils in medium to high elevations (4000-6000 meters), white crystalline exudate present

Berries/cones: Rosy red in color.  May hybridize with Pinchot’s juniper (J. pinchotii) where both species occur, specifically in West Texas.

Resprouting: yes

Areas of Texas: west Texas

 

 


Alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana)

 

Growth form: treelike

Distinctive character(s): The bark of this species is furrowed into distinctive rectangular plates, which resembles alligator skin. Seed cones are 2 distinct sizes.

Berries/cones: most commonly blue-green, though may be occasionally red or tan

There are multiple varieties of alligator juniper and a key to the varieties can be found here.

Areas of Texas: west Texas

 


Drooping juniper (Juniperus flaccida) (rare)

 

Growth form: treelike

Distinctive character(s): drooping, “wilted” foliage.

Berries/cones: mature cone color is brown-purple

Areas of Texas: Chisos mountains of west Texas 1830-2440 meters

 


Oneseed juniper (Juniperus monosperma)

 

Growth form: most commonly shrublike, may be treelike and globe shaped

Distinctive character(s): crystalline substance present on foliage, leaves do not overlap. Soft, juicy cones are one seeded.

Seed/cones: blue or reddish-blue to brown, single seeded though occasionally with 2-3 seeds

Areas of Texas: west Texas, panhandle

 

 


Pinchot’s juniper, red berry cedar (Juniperus pinchotii)

 

Growth form: shrublike or tree like

Distinctive character(s): glands with white crystalline exudate present on foliage, red berry. (Distinguished from J. ashei by cone color)

Resprout: following cutting, fire

Seed/cones: cones red, sweet and not resinous, often with a single seed.

Areas of Texas: west Texas, Texas panhandle, Texas hill country

 

 

 


Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum)

 

Growth form: treelike, rarely shrublike. A cultivar “skyrocket” is popular in landscaping.

Distinctive character(s): leaves not overlapping, small twigs smooth, developing plates as they grow. Cones mature in two years, two sizes.  Foliage often ascending and pointed upward but may occasionally be flaccid.

Resprout: no

Seeds/cones: 2 distinct sizes, light blue with gray waxy coating

Areas of Texas: West Texas, Texas panhandle

 

 


Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)

 

Growth form: treelike, cone-shaped more than globe-shaped

Distinctive character(s): old whip-leaves persist, twigs not “shaggy” and exfoliating into plates. Leaves may turn reddish brown in winter. Eastern distribution, less common elsewhere.

Resprout: no

Seed/cones: blue-black to brownish, soft, resinous with 1-2 seeds.

Areas of Texas: eastern Texas (most common), Texas Panhandle, eastern Texas hill country

 


 

Plants that are not cedars, but may look like them

Tamarisk (Tamarix spp.)

 

These species are invasive and occur in riparian areas. They have scale-like leaves but are members of angiosperms (flowering plants), unlike junipers, which are gymnosperms.

How to tell salt cedar from true “cedars”?: wispy pink or white flowers appear during reproduction. The foliage is messy, slender and open. Trees are not conical or globe shaped. They may be evergreen but are most commonly deciduous.

 

Sources

Conifers.org

Juniperus.org

USDA plants (distribution maps)

 

 

By K.T. Strain

Katie Strain is a texan, plant enthusiast, and Ph.D. student studying Evolution, Ecology and Conservation biology.

2 replies on “A guide to distinguishing Texas cedar trees (Juniperus species)”

Excellent article and for a long time we have needed it. Any idea how mistaken identity of junipers for cedars in Texas came to pass? I once read an early surveyor who came through the region in the 1800’s mistakenly referred to junipers as cedars and the practice has carried through to today. Thank you! Steve

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