Ashe’s juniper is uncommon in the southwestern portion of the Ozarks; our populations represent the northeastern tip of its range. The margins of its scale-leaves are finely and irregularly serrated (toothed; use magnification), while those of eastern red cedar are entire (smooth). Also, the foliage is darker green than eastern red cedar and stays green through winter, and the bark is grayer.
Ashe’s juniper is a shrub to small evergreen tree. The shape is usually irregular, with a flattened crown and the main branches emerging and spreading at the base, with a fluted and twisted trunk.
The leaves, usually at the ends of the twigs, are minute, scalelike, opposite in 2 to 4 ranks, flatly pressed against the small stem, egg-shaped, with the tip pointed, margins minutely toothed, lacking glands but resinous, and aromatic. The leaves retain their green color in winter.
The bark is gray to reddish brown beneath, shredding into shaggy, lengthwise strips, with white blotches ringing the stems and branches.
Twigs are rather stiff, gray to reddish, scaly, and aromatic.
Conifers don’t technically flower, but pollen is shed March–May. The minute male and female cones usually appear on separate trees; the male cones are small, golden brown, about ⅛ inch long, and produced at the tips of the twigs; the female cones are smaller.
Fruits August–September; female cones become fleshy, berrylike, about ¼ inch long, bluish green, covered with a white, waxy coating, globe-shaped; the single seed within is egg-shaped with a pointed tip and rounded base, shiny, light to dark brown, about ⅛ inch in diameter.
- Eastern red cedar (J. virginiana) is a close relative and is much more common and widespread in Missouri. Its scale-leaves are entire (not toothed) (even under magnification); also its foliage is lighter green (olive green to yellowish green) and turns bronze or reddish after the first frost (not dark green and staying green through winter), and its bark is reddish brown (not as gray).
- Numerous other members of the cypress family (often called junipers) are grown in Missouri as landscaping plants, but they are not known to escape or become established outside of cultivation. Thus plants like Italian cypress, dawn redwood, and arborvitae are not considered part of our flora.
- Meanwhile, true cedars (genus Cedrus) are unrelated to Missouri’s cedars/junipers and are not native to North America; they are in the pine family.
Height: rarely more than 30 feet.
Uncommon; limited to southwestern Missouri, in the southwestern portion of the Ozarks along the Arkansas border.
The best example of a stand of old-growth Ashe’s juniper in Missouri is protected at Ashe Juniper Natural Area in Stone County, where trees have been aged at between 350 and 500 years old.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs on dolomite glades and bluffs; less commonly along dry roadsides in dolomite outcrops. Look for it dolomite and limestone glades on knobs along the reservoirs of the former White River and its tributaries in southwestern Missouri.
The overall range of this species extends from southwestern Missouri and northern Arkansas to the Arbuckle Mountains and bluffs of Pryor Creek in Oklahoma and to parts of Texas, especially the Edwards Plateau in central Texas, and southward and westward into Mexico.
Native evergreen coniferous shrub or small tree.
This species is too uncommon to have any commercial value in Missouri. Most harvesting of Ashe’s juniper occurs in Texas, where it is abundant on the Edwards Plateau. The wood is used for fuel, poles, posts, crossties, and small woodenware articles. Most old-growth Ashe’s juniper was cut a century ago.
Also in Texas and other places where this species in more abundant, it provides shade for livestock and prevents erosion.
Ashe’s juniper is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental.
The species name, ashei, honors William Willard Ashe (1872–1932), a pioneer forester, botanist, and conservationist with the US Forest Service who collected many botanical specimens. A native of North Carolina, he spent much of his career involved with southern forestry. He published 510 plant names, so if you see a scientific name with “Ashe” following it, you’ll know he was the one who named it. The person who named this species after Ashe was the botanist John Theodore Buchholz (1888–1951).
This is the characteristic juniper of the Edwards Plateau of central Texas. There, old-growth colonies of Ashe’s juniper provides critical habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which uses its shreddy bark for nesting material. As the dominant evergreen shrub in that region, it is a key component of the natural habitats there.
The foliage is browsed occasionally by white-tailed deer. The sweet fruit is eaten by several species of birds and mammals, including the bobwhite, American robin, bluebird, cedar waxwing, gray fox, and raccoon.
Like eastern red cedar, Ashe’s juniper is a host plant for the juniper (or olive) hairstreak, Callophrys gruneus.
Ashe’s juniper is apparently resistant to the cedar-apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) that, on eastern red cedar, creates weird golfball-shaped, orange-tentacled masses in spring.