Old Trees

The Juniper Tree

01

Once again I have had the fortune to enter a strange, unique wilderness located in the back country of Humboldt County. This place is known as the Eaton Roughs, which is a sandstone block that has surfaced in the past few million years via faulting. The Roughs now hold a small island of unique vegetation, for the coast range, with many plants that you would expect to see in the Klamath Mountains or the Yolla Bollys.

One species in particular was on my mind for the day; Juniperus sp.. Last time I was in this area I came across what I was fairly confident was a juniper, however I was unable to key it properly. This time I was set to verify what kind of tree this is, or at the very least collect enough data to have people smarter than me help identify it.

There are only a few species that this tree can be. Juniperus grandis (Sierra), Juniperus occidentalis (Western) or Juniperus communis (Common). Initially I thought that these could potentially be sierra juniper – due to their form. While pretty limited, my experience with western and common juniper were that they often where more shrub-like. However after more research and examination, I am now pretty confident that these are indeed Juniperus occidentalis, or western juniper.

08

According to Michael Kauffmann in Conifer Country, the oldest known western junipers are 1,000-1,500 years old. I found several trees that looked like the one above, gnarly and obviously quite old. Could they be over 1,000 years old? Another interesting fact is how apparently their range has increased in the past 50 years. While climate change is one potential explanation, fire exclusion seems to be the most likely reason. This has certainly been true in this region as well, and this may be why I found abundant regeneration throughout the Roughs.

I would appreciate any comments to confirm or refute if this is western juniper. I did collect some leaves, bark and berries – if required.