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Juniper

Juniperis communis

Juniper berries.

Description

A prickly, sprawling evergreen 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 certain meat dishes particularly game and venison. Used whole they impart a bitter, crunchy bite to savoury 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. The form of individual bushes varies from being low and prostrate at the one extreme to cylindrical and conical at the other.

Close up photo of a Juniper berry on a bush

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.
  • Juniper berries are used to flavour gin and have other uses like firewood or as a substitute for barbed wire.
  • Juniper plants take at least seven years to grow and are vulnerable to being eaten by animals.
  • In the 19th century, large tracts of Juniper were harvested for fuel for illicit trade of unlicensed whisky stills
  • It has also been called Bastard killer as the berries were swallowed to procure abortions. Its reputation as an abortifacient has echoes in the Victorian belief that gin (aptly called ‘Mother’s ruin’) was effective for the same purpose.
gloved hand holding juniper berries with the reverse the red blog

What is Plantlife doing?

In the Saving England’s Lowland Juniper project, Plantlife joined forces with landowners, supported by Natural England, to revitalise Juniper across southern England. 48 patches of land at nine sites in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire were scraped back to create a grassland habitat suitable for Juniper to regenerate.

 
Read more

a field of grass field with a variety of flowers in pink, purple, yellow and white

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Other Species

Smoky Spindles
Smoky Spindles

Smoky Spindles

Hygrocybe pratensis

Meadow WaxCap
Apricot mushroom with flat top

Meadow WaxCap

Hygrocybe pratensis

Pale Dog-violet

Viola lactea

Pale dog-violet in grass

A milky-flowered member of the violet family known in French as la Violette blanche (the white violet).

In fact the second part of its scientific name – lactea – means ‘milky’ in Latin. It has creeping stems originating from a rosette of leaves about its base.

Distribution

A species of humid heathland and grass heath in southern England, largely confined to key heathland districts including the Wealden and Thames Basin heaths, the New Forest and Dorset heaths, and through much of Devon and Cornwall (though rarely ever commonly).

Habitat

Pale Dog-violet is a species of humid heathland and grass heath (including the Culm grasslands), favouring areas with short vegetation and considerable bare ground created by burning, grazing or incidental disturbance such as rutting, turf cutting etc.

Pale dog-violet in grass

Key threats

The species’ greatest threat comes from the cessation of traditional management practices, notably winter swaling (burning of dead grass and dwarf shrubs) and traditional stock grazing, ideally by cattle and/or ponies.

Best time to see

May and June whilst flowering.

Other Species

Big Blue Pinkgill
A chunky blue mushroom laid out on grass

Big Blue Pinkgill

Entoloma bloxamii

Birds-foot Trefoil

Birds-foot Trefoil

Lotus corniculatus

Blackening Waxcap
A dark pointed mushroom with long stem growing in the grass

Blackening Waxcap

Hygrocybe conica

Mouse-ear Hawkweed

Pilosella officinarum

Mouse-ear Hawkweed

This is a lovely little wildflower that spreads to form close-knit mats of leaves in dry, sunny spots.

Each plant has a small rosette of hairy ragged leaves that are dark green above but whitish and hairy underneath. They’re rounded at the tips and not toothed. The flowers are carried on long stems from the centre of these rosettes, up to 30cm tall. Each narrow and tightly packed bloom – one per stem – is like a dandelion but a paler lemon yellow in colour. They are followed by fluffy seed heads.

Distribution

Found throughout the UK, but rarer in north-west Scotland.

Habitat

Grows in dry grassy places like meadows, pastures, verges, lawns, heaths and dunes as well as waste ground.

Best time to see

When in flower, from May to August.

Mouse-ear hawkweed

Did you know?

  • The closely related fox-and-cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca) has striking clusters of reddish-orange flowers. A garden escape, it often colonises rough grassland, lawns, verges and churchyards.

Other Species

Big Blue Pinkgill
A chunky blue mushroom laid out on grass

Big Blue Pinkgill

Entoloma bloxamii

Birds-foot Trefoil

Birds-foot Trefoil

Lotus corniculatus

Blackening Waxcap
A dark pointed mushroom with long stem growing in the grass

Blackening Waxcap

Hygrocybe conica

Thyme-leaved Speedwell

Veronica serpyllifolia

Despite being very common and widespread, this small speedwell is easily overlooked in lawns, meadows and pastures.

It spreads to form small patches of plain green hairless leaves that are carried in pairs and look similar to a large version of Thyme, hence the name.

The tips of the shoots rise up and turn into short flower spikes, bearing a succession of tiny white or pale blue flowers, 5-6mm across. Look closely and you’ll see that their uppermost petal is usually veined with darker blue. Only a few flowers open at a time and their pale colour can make this plant hard to spot.

Distribution

Found throughout the UK.

Habitat

Grows in a wide range of dry and damp places including grassy pastures, lawns and verges as well as woodland rides, heaths and cultivated land and waste ground.

Best time to see

When in flower, from March to October.

Did you know?

  • This flower is tolerant of trampling and is often found on the edges of paths and in field gateways.

Other Species

Big Blue Pinkgill
A chunky blue mushroom laid out on grass

Big Blue Pinkgill

Entoloma bloxamii

Birds-foot Trefoil

Birds-foot Trefoil

Lotus corniculatus

Blackening Waxcap
A dark pointed mushroom with long stem growing in the grass

Blackening Waxcap

Hygrocybe conica