Juniper Juniperis communis

Status Amber - Vulnerable and Near-Threatened
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Habitat

A prickly shrub in the Cypress family with short spiky leaves. Juniper blooms with small yellow flowers, followed by ‘berries’ - actually fleshy cones, that start green but ripen to blue-black. These are famously used to flavour gin and some meat dishes. In fact, the word "Gin" derives from either genièvre or jenever - the French and Dutch words for "juniper"!

Juniper is dioecious, which means that it is either male or female, unlike most tree species.

Distribution

Formerly common in Britain, many of its large population areas have shrunk, and small ones have almost disappeared, but this is hard to estimate as the individual bushes are very long-lived and disguise the lack of new seedlings.

Habitat

It grows in pine woods or on moors and wind-swept coastal dunes in Scotland, and also heaths and limestone grassland or cliffs in the south of England.

Key threats

Excessive grazing and loss of grazing altogether. Excessive grazing prevents seedling development, whereas loss of grazing leads to development of tough scrub and tree cover which in turn causes shade that slowly kills the plants. Bush fires are also a threat.

What Plantlife is doing

Plantlife is engaged in an ongoing Juniper conservation project.

Did you know...

Juniper dates back 10,000 years and was one of the first tree species to colonise the UK after the last Ice Age.

The aromatic berries (which take three years to ripen) are prized for the flavour they impart to one of our favourite drinks - gin.

It can take at least seven years for Juniper to reach a height of 20 cm. While they are so small, they are vulnerable to being eaten by animals, such as sheep, deer, rabbits and voles.

A law was introduced in the 19th century to outlaw unlicensed whisky stills. Juniper wood burns with an almost invisible smoke, so large tracts of Juniper were harvested for fuel for this illicit trade.

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