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What is a Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)

Utah Juniper

Utah Juniper Overview

The Utah Juniper is a small tree that is native to the southwestern United States and can be found growing around elevations of 4,300 to 8,500 feet. These trees are known for their ability to grow in incredibly harsh conditions that arise in the high desert. This includes long and intense hours of sunlight, high winds, extreme desert heat, and even colder desert winters. Growing up in the desert means that water is hard to come by which kills just about any other plant except the Utah Juniper. These trees survive by having a root system that accounts for two-thirds of their mass and can reach into groundwater that’s 25 feet deep. If that wasn’t enough, the Utah Juniper will send roots that expand nearly 100 feet away from it to cover as much area as possible to soak up all the water it can. 

While growing in a hellish landscape may seem like it would produce a plant with little to give, the Utah Juniper actually has a cornucopia of useful properties. For starters, the berries are edible and help feed wildlife such as coyotes, jackrabbits, Townsend’s solitaire, and other animals. The berries are also used by Native Americans, like the Havasupai, who use them to treat stomach aches, headaches, and other mild ailments. The Utah Juniper wood is rot-resistant which means it can be used as a reliable building material. If you’re looking for essential oil, these trees have that too. Their trunks contains oils that can last up to 20 years after the tree has died off.

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Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) tree on the edge of a deep canyon in Canyonlands National Park near Moab Utah.


  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Clade: Gymnosperms
  • Division: Pinophyta
  • Class: Pinopsida
  • Order: Pinales
  • Family: Cupressaceae
  • Genus: Juniperus
  • Species: J. osteosperma

Size and Body Description

Utah Junipers are medium sized as far a trees are concerned with green or dark green leaves that give the tree a bushy appearance. In and on those leaves are blue or reddish brown berry like cones which contain the seeds for the tree to reproduce. The cones can have a waxy white bloom to them and will start to pollenate in the spring. Their bark is brown in color and can have a twisted look to it much like other high altitude trees such as the bristle cone pine.


Utah Juniper trees will grow to be around 9 to almost 20 feet in height.


A tough specimen of a Juniper in Arches National Park, Utah, USA


Utah Juniper leaves aren’t shaped like traditional tree leaves in that they aren’t teardrop or spade shaped but rather scaly and flat. The leaves are dark green in color and will have a pronged shape to them where tiny offshoots occur in groups of two or three. A good way to describe what they look like is to compare them to the tips of asparagus, only stacked on top of other asparagus tips


The Utah Juniper reproduces through the seeds that their flowers or cones produce which are either carried by the wind, other weather phenomenon, or any animals that may eat the seeds. 


Utah Junipers don’t produce traditional flowers but they do produce small blue bulbs that are berry like in appearance. Once matured, these bulbs will turn red or reddish brown and are considered to be coned, which hold the seeds.


Utah Juniper trees produce seeds in the form of cones. These cones are berry-like and house the seeds which are long and pointed.


While the name suggests that these trees are in Utah, which they are, they’re also found in a handful of other states on the western side of the United States. These states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah. 

Where Found

Utah Junipers are found at decently high elevations of around 3,000 to 7,500 feet in altitude. Being that high up, these plants are found in dry hills, plains, and cliffs often times sprouting from rocks or hard ground. 


As of writing this, there aren’t any federal protections for the Utah Juniper but they do still have general protections in state and national parks around the US.

References Used

Utah Juniper