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Plants / Shrubs

California Juniper

SPECIES: Juniperus californica

COMMON NAMES :
California juniper
desert white cedar

LIFE FORM :
Tree, Shrub

DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Juniperus californica

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
California juniper is distributed from Shasta County, California, south as far as Baja California Norte. California juniper occurs through the inner Coast Ranges and in interior cismontane southern California to the western slope of the southern Sierra Nevada. It occurs on desert slopes from the western edge of the Colorado Desert and Joshua Tree National Park to Kern County, California. California juniper also occurs in isolated parts of Nevada and Arizona, near their border with California.

ECOSYSTEMS :
Ponderosa pine
Fir - spruce
Sagebrush
Desert shrub
Chaparral - mountain shrub
Pinyon - juniper

STATES :
AZ, CA, NV
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
Southern Pacific Border
Sierra Mountains
Lower Basin and Range

PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
Pine - Douglas-fir forest
Arizona pine forest
Southwestern spruce - fir forest
Juniper - pinyon woodland
Juniper steppe woodland
California oakwoods
Oak - juniper woodlands
Chaparral
Montane chaparral
Coastal sagebrush
Mountain-mahogany - oak scrub
Great Basin sagebrush
Creosotebush
Sagebrush steppe

HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
California juniper is codominant primarily with singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) in the pinyon-juniper type. This type occupies lower elevations than the Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) type. California juniper is an understory associate in the blue oak (Quercus douglasii)-narrowleaf goldenweed (Haplopappus linearfolius) community found in the central and southern coastal foothills. It also occurs frequently as a scattered tree in grasslands, in interior live oak woodlands (Quercus wislizenii), and microsites in chaparral. On the desert side of mountain ranges, it is associated with desert chaparral. California juniper is an indicator of Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) woodland and occurs in widely dispersed small groves in southern California.

California juniper is listed as a codominant or dominant species in the following classifications:

Desert scrub communities in the Sonoran Desert of California and Arizona.
General vegetation communities of southern California.
General vegetation plant associations of southern California.
Desert vegetation community types of the Mojave Desert of southern California.
Pinyon-juniper woodland community types of the San Bernardino Mountains of California.

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS
SPECIES: Juniperus californica

WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
California junipers are rarely used for sawn products because they are small and have poor growth form. California juniper has a low tree volume and is too poorly formed to have measurable volume in main-stem sections. Juniper fenceposts are well known in rangelands, where it is said that "a juniper post will outlast two post holes". Besides a source of fenceposts, California juniper is also a source of fuelwood and Christmas trees. As technology improves and demand increases, California juniper may become more important.

IMPORTANCE TO WILDLIFE :
California juniper in pinyon-juniper woodlands provide food and shelter for deer, elk, pronghorn, wild horses, Merriam's turkeys, and other animals. The berry crops that are produced annually are consumed by birds and mammals. As California juniper matures, its foliage becomes too high for deer to reach, thus providing little winter forage. On winter range, California juniper serves as staple browse for deer.

On Christmas Tree Pass, Nevada, areas of dense California juniper supported birds such as Scott's oriole (Iclerus parisorum), Lesser goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria), bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus), mourning dove (Zenaida macroura), ladder-backed woodpecker (Picoides scalaris), ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula), and ash-throated flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens).

PALATABILITY :
Palatability of California juniper is fair to poor for deer and goats, poor to useless for sheep, and useless for cattle and horses.

COVER VALUE :
California juniper provides fair to poor cover for deer and other similar-sized mammals when vegetation is sparse; the cover value improves as vegetation becomes more dense.

OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Native Americans used California juniper wood for sinew-backed bows. They also ground up the berries (ie. fleshy cones) and molded them into cakes, which were said to taste sweet.

OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
California juniper is not suitable for seed-tree regeneration. Rotations for wood production are long because of slow growth rates. These vary from 100 years at best sites to 300 years at poor sites.

California juniper can be important for watershed management.


BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Juniperus californica


GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
California juniper is a native conifer that is adapted to xeric sites. As a seedling under 12 inches (30cm) in height, it is shade dependent. Its growth is crooked, forked, and multistemmed. Its branches are stiff with irregular stems.

Its scalelike leaves are denticulate at the margins, glandular, pitted on the back, and bluntly pointed. The leaves occur in whorls of two.

At maturity, California juniper reaches 3 to 15 feet (1-4.5 m), occassionally reaching 40 feet (12 m) in height.

Each fruit contains one to two seeds, and the ripe berries are reddish brown.

REGENERATION PROCESSES :
California juniper seeds are dispersed by birds and mammals, which eat the berries and then excrete viable, scarified seeds.

SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
California juniper most commonly occurs in pinyon-juniper woodlands that border and integrate with chaparral along desert margins. This woodland type also occurs with montane forest elements, with Joshua tree woodland, and with coastal sage scrub. California juniper is a dominant species in desert chaparral.

California juniper occurs in a climate that has mild, moist, sunny winters and hot, dry summers. Most precipitation falls between December and April, with annual precipitation ranging from less than 12 to more than 40 inches (300-1,000 mm) at higher elevations. Winter temperatures range from 25 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 - 18 deg C), and summer temperatures range from 55 to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (12-38 deg C). The growing season of California juniper is 340 to 360 days.

Soils of chaparral are porous, rocky, coarse, and sandy or silty. These soils are low in clay and in nutrients in comparison to agricultural soils. These soils are also very shallow. California juniper also occurs on alluvial fans and steep slopes.

The altitude at which California juniper occurs varies as follows:

Location Christmas Tree Pass, NV 3,220-4,020 Sonoran Desert, CA 3,500-10,000 San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains, CA 3,000-9,000

California juniper is most commonly associated with singleleaf pinyon. Associates other than those previously mentioned vary between habitats. Montane conifer forest associates are mentioned in the Distribution and Occurrence frame. Pinyon-juniper woodland associates are mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus spp.), bitterbrush (Purshia spp.), snakeweed (Gutierrizia brecteata), narrowleaf goldenweed, and California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum). Desert edge and chaparral associates include oaks (Quercus spp.), blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima), creosotebush (Larrea divaricata), chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.), ceanothus (Ceanothus spp.), birchleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus spp.), desert bitterbrush (Purshia glandulosa), Dorrs sage (Salvia dorii), and cliffrose (Cowania spp.).

SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Obligate Climax Species

Mature California juniper is not shade tolerant. Seedlings, however, appear to be shade dependent, possibly because these seedlings will replace the juniper they grow up under. In the absence of disturbance (fire or other), junipers tend to replace themselves as mature stands gradually die out. Severe fires result in elimination of nonsprouting junipers, such as California juniper, and favor fire-adapted species of desert chaparral. On rocky breaks where it is protected from fire, California juniper is a climax species, but in grasslands frequently disturbed by fire, California juniper is not a climax species.

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Despite a growing season that is between 340 and 360 days, height growth of dominant juniper trees is only 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) per year and diameter growth only 0.04 to 0.2 inch (1-5 mm) per year. Water is the growth-limiting factor; tree age is not a major influence on the growth rate.

California juniper flowers in the spring, and seeds germinate in early spring.

Plant Glossary
Juniper at 3,800 ft. elev. in Joshua Tree National Park


Trunk of juniper


Juniper at 3,200 ft. elev. in Joshua Tree National Park


Juniper berries


Jackrabbit trails


Juniper steppe woodland


Juniper and silver cholla cactus


Juniper


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