Species Spotlight – Juniperus communis var. depressa

Juniperus communis var. depressa

A species in decline due to habitat loss

Common juniper, or old-field juniper, is declining rapidly from its historic range on the East Coast.  Home to exclusively full-sun sites, Juniperus communis var. depressa is retreating from its traditional old pasture and fire-maintained ecosystem habitats to rocky outcrops and barrens systems where it is relatively safe from encroaching forests.  Short, rarely no more than 36″ high, but evergreen and sprawling, up to 8′ in diameter, these very aromatic shrubs are coveted for their berries (cones) that provide the preferred flavor profile for hand-crafted gin recipes.

Easy to grow in nearly any soil, Juniperus communis var. depressa shrugs off drought and can survive saturated conditions, even in the winter.  But these beautiful shrubs must have full sun to flourish.  Even tall herbaceous weeds can rob them of enough sunlight.  See the pictures above to get a sense of the habitats in which they can be readily observed.  Along the bluffs overlooking Lake Erie, on thin soils over bedrock that suppresses or prevents tree growth, and under power lines and along interstate highways (not shown) where the areas around them are artificially maintained.  The easiest place to observe magnificent specimens is along I-87 in upper New York state on your way to Montreal.  They grow on top of the exposed granite road cuts in the middle and on the sides of the interstate.

Juniperus communis var. depressa would make a perfect all-native, durable evergreen shrub for corporate centers, shopping malls, your local bank, or even the home landscape.  Nearly anywhere that has full-sun conditions free of encroaching vegetation.  And the best feature is that they won’t overgrow their space like so many of the Asian junipers will do after many years.

Buy Juniperus communis var. depressa from ArcheWild as either finished landscape shrubs or liners.  It takes 2-3 years for the seeds to germinate and another 3-4 years to fill out a 3 or 5 gallon container so these are not inexpensive plants.  But they are super easy to grow once planted.

North America hosts four different Juniperus communis species.  The Juniperus communis var. depressa remains the most common and widespread ranging from Arizona and Georgia to Nunavut.  The other three hug the extreme edges of North America, including Yukon, Greenland, and Labrador.  See the USDA range maps below.  ArcheWild grows its plants from both upstate New York, western Massachusetts, and from a select few locations in Connecticut.

All plant images © 2015-2017 ArcheWild.