Savin grows naturally in south-east Europe, the Alps and Carpathians, eastern Siberia and central Asia at elevations 1000-3300m. It is found at the forest limit in mountain areas and also in the under-storey of mountain forests. There is a form of savin, J. sabina var. davurica which grows in eastern Asia and has both scale-like and needle-like leaves in mature plants. The European savin has only scale-like leaves.
In habit, savin is a prostrate spreading shrub but can also grow as a small tree to 3-5 metres. Tolerant of extreme drought and scorching sunlight, it often grows on south-facing slopes where other trees and shrubs cannot compete. Like the other junipers, savin individuals are either male or female, i.e. dioecious, with small, oval, blue-black berry-like cones being found on the females; they are extremely poisonous. The leaves and branches also contain poisonous oils which can be smelt in the air on hot weather, and touching the shrub can irritate sensitive skins. Despite this, savin is popular as a house-plant, with several varieties on the market.