Juniper has the greatest range of any conifer. It grows on all the continents of the Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic tundra to the semi-tropics. This demands great adaptability to varying conditions, and juniper is indeed undemanding as to where it grows: from almost bare rock to nutrient-rich groves.
Juniper’s habit varies: creeper, shrubby or erect, sometimes even tree-like, with other intermediate forms. Particular forms are also selected for production and sale as “varieties”.
Juniper grows slowly and produces hard tough wood, with a pleasant smell. Tree-like junipers can grow to 15 metres as they are long-living; the oldest individuals in Finland are close to 1000 years old. The erect and tree-like forms were protected in the wild for many years, and even now it is to be hoped that their use is limited.
The fruit of the juniper is often called a berry although it is in fact a juicy cone. The species is dioecious, i.e. each individual is either male or female. In the three years after pollination the flowers on the females first develop into green, and then blue, berry-like cones. They have been used traditionally for flavouring and as medicine. They have high resin content so consumption should be limited.