Full Juniper Lifespan (Here’s How Long They Last)

Phoenicean juniper tree (juniperus phoenicea canariensis), with blue sky and atlantic ocean background, el sabinar volcanic landscape, el hierro island, canary islands, spain

You’ve probably seen a juniper tree at some point in your life. They have tiny little blue berries and peeling bark, plus they smell amazing. If you’ve seen them, you know they usually grow in areas that get little water, especially if you’ve hiked in sandy or mountainous areas. Without needing much water, though, how long do they last?

Juniper tree lifespans vary based on the variety. Some commonly used landscape junipers can live anywhere from 30 to 70 years, but most varieties can live for hundreds of years. Some Junipers have been reported to be thousands of years old.

Junipers can last quite a long time, enough for you to get full use out of them! Keep reading to learn about the juniper’s lifespan and how long these other-worldly trees last.

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How Long Do Junipers Last?

Junipers are quite amazing trees. They can survive in some of the harshest environments. They are drought-tolerant and sustain high winds, extreme sunlight, heat, and cold, freezing temperatures.

Junipers are slow growers and can live for hundreds of years, even some living for thousands of years. They are self-pruning trees with an extensive root system. Junipers prefer full sun areas with well-draining soil, and will not do well in shade or wet soils.

The lifespan of the juniper will depend on its variety.

Blue Point, Sea Green, Spartan, And Trout Man Juniper Tree Lifespans

Certain landscape juniper like the blue point juniper, the sea green juniper, the spartan juniper, and the trout man juniper, which are commonly used in landscapes, are typically expected to live for 30 years.

But for this article’s purposes, we’re going to discuss the longer living juniper, such as the Rocky Mountain juniper, which has a lifespan of up to 300 years on average!

However, some junipers can live well beyond that age. And I mean, hundreds or thousands of years. According to the National Park Service, junipers can live anywhere from 350 to 700 years.

The Rocky Mountain Juniper Tree Lifespan

The Rocky Mountain juniper, Juniperus scopulorum, is one that lives for hundreds of years, and its growth doesn’t start slowing down until well over 100 years of age. The average age of a Rocky Mountain Juniper is anywhere between 250-300 years!

According to the United States Forest Service, the Rocky Mountain juniper optimum age for seed production isn’t even until 50-200 years. They even list one Rocky Mountain juniper found in Utah at an estimated 3,000 years old!

This species of juniper is mainly found in the range of pinyon-juniper woodlands from Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The Rocky Mountain juniper is found at elevations of 9,000 feet, all the way to sea level.

Eastern Red Cedar Juniper Tree Lifespan

The eastern red cedar juniper, Juniperus virginiana, has what are called false rings within the growth rings, which make it more difficult to determine the most accurate age. However, according to the USDA Forest Service, the eastern red cedar can live for over 450 years.

The eastern red cedar can also grow a whopping 2ft per year!

Utah Juniper Tree Lifespan

Another other-worldly species is the Utah juniper, Juniperus osteosperma. The Utah juniper is another one that lives for an incredible length of time. These junipers can live up to 650 years old according to Utah State Extension!

Like the Rocky Mountain juniper, they live in rocky, mountainous areas with strong winds and little to no rain.

Pinchot’s Juniper Tree Lifespan

Pinchot’s juniper, Juniperus pinchotii, is a species found in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. This species isn’t known to live as one as the Rocky Mountain juniper or the Utah juniper, mentioned above.

But, certain plants have been found to be as old as 170 years in isolated areas in Texas. The Pinchot juniper, however, is unlike the others we mentioned in that tree height was the most accurate predictor of sexual maturity of the tree rather than age. 

Alligator Juniper Tree Lifespan

Probably one of the coolest junipers we have yet to mention is the alligator juniper, Juniperus deppeana.

The bark of this juniper looks like an alligator hide! This tree has been reported to be 500 years old! You will find this juniper in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona at elevations of up to 8,000 feet. 

Early Stages Of Junipers

Juniper bushes in the greenhouse. Thuja seedlings in pots in the garden. Nursery of various green spruces for gardening. Various seedlings: chamaecyparis, thuja, taxus, etc.

We’ll cover a few species of juniper trees in these next sections, namely, the western juniper and the Rocky Mountain juniper.

How Junipers Start Off

In the early stages of life for the western juniper tree, birds and mammals disperse seeds in the fall through their feces. 

For seeds of western junipers to germinate, they need stratification, which typically happens in April. Stratification is necessary to break the dormancy period and is accomplished through cold, over-winter temperatures. 

Once stratified, seeds are sown in fall or spring. Western junipers are resistant to disease, insects, and even animals during the early stages of growth.

If you’re growing your own juniper tree, check out our guide to how much water junipers need!

How Junipers Establish Root Systems

The growth of roots and height ranges depending on the location’s conditions. As a seedling, the western junipers grow roots fairly quickly.

A juniper trees root system grows vertically, downward, before growing laterally. Once they are more established, they focus their growth on growing roots laterally to reach water and nutrients.

Birds, gravity, and water disperse the Rocky mountain juniper seeds, rather than mammals, which disperse western juniper seeds. These seeds don’t germinate until the following year’s spring, but this is sometimes delayed for over two years.

The root system of Rocky Mountain junipers is a shallow, lateral root system. Compared to the western juniper, whose roots can penetrate rocky soils easily, rocky areas limit the Rocky Mountain juniper’s root depth. 

The most commonly distributed juniper in the Eastern United States is the eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana. These juniper species are found in every eastern state. 

Eastern red cedar seeds are eaten and spread by digestion by birds and animals. Seeds typically germinate the following spring, after they spread the seeds. The berries or cones contain the seeds that get spread. 

The root system of eastern red cedars has a wide, very fibrous root system they develop within the first year. They will grow a taproot, but it depends on the soil conditions they like for growth

Aging & Maturation Of Junipers

Junipers are considered to be slow-growing trees, most growing around 1ft per year.

For instance, the western juniper needs full sun and does poorly in shade. This species of juniper doesn’t do well with competition. 

The western juniper is extremely tolerant to wind, however, fire tolerance depends on age. Mature junipers are more fire-resistant than younger junipers. Their bark is thick and foliage typically grows high.

The western juniper grows to up to 32 feet in height according to information published by Penn State.

Unlike the western juniper, the Rocky Mountain juniper becomes established when in partial shade and moist locations. 

As the Rocky Mountain juniper matures, it becomes less shade-tolerant than when it was a seedling or sapling. 

The Rocky Mountain juniper grows about 1ft per year and can also reach a height of around 30ft tall.

The eastern red cedar will even survive in severe competition from other plants and trees.

Uses Of Junipers

Juniper bush branch with berries.

Historically, juniper was used during pioneer times for things like firewood, pole fences, corrals, and more. The western juniper is extremely durable, which explains its variety of uses.  

Wildlife also uses the western juniper for shelter, food, and shade. 

The Rocky Mountain juniper was and is also mainly used for firewood. The heartwood, or inner wood, of the Rocky Mountain juniper is decay-resistant, so it was heavily used for fence posts. Native Americans also used juniper bark to weave cradles and used juniper berries as food. 

The eastern red cedar is mainly used among wildlife for nesting, roosting, and cover. Although its foliage is fairly low quality as food, animals eat it in an emergency. The berries, however, are eaten by many wildlife species, including birds, rabbits, foxes, opossums, and coyotes, to name a few.

Not only does the eastern red cedar have extreme drought tolerance, but it also can handle extreme temperatures. This species is also the best species to limit wind erosion on the soil. 

That’s A Wrap!

There you have it! Let’s recap some things we covered in this article!

Juniper lifespans vary based on the variety or species. Although we mentioned some commonly used landscape junipers, which can live anywhere from 30 to 70 years, most varieties can live for hundreds of years. 

Junipers are extremely drought tolerant and can withstand extremely harsh environments, including extreme temperatures and wind. 

Certain species, like the Rocky Mountain juniper, live for hundreds of years and their growth doesn’t start to slow down until they are roughly 170 years old! However, the average age of these junipers is usually between 250-300 years. But, one Rocky Mountain juniper was found to be 3,000 years old!

Another incredibly long-lived species we talked about is the Utah juniper. This one lives for an incredible length of time and lives an average age of 400-750 years.

One of the most amazing adaptations is their root system. Junipers have what’s called a tap root that goes straight down to reach water deep beneath the surface. They also have a root system that spreads out wide. This extensive root system helps them survive the extreme drought conditions!

Well, we hope you learned just how long juniper trees last and some other interesting facts about junipers. 

Thanks for sticking around and reading with us!

References

Miller, Richard F., Tony J. Svejcar, and Jeffrey A. Rose. “Impacts of western juniper on plant community composition and structure.” Rangeland Ecology & Management/Journal of Range Management Archives 53, no. 6 (2000): 574-585.

Miller, R. F., Tausch, R. J., McArthur, E. D., Johnson, D. D., & Sanderson, S. C. (2008). Age structure and expansion of piñon-juniper woodlands: a regional perspective in the Intermountain West. Res. Pap. RMRS-RP-69. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 15 p., 69.

Tausch, R. J., West, N. E., & Nabi, A. A. (1981). Tree age and dominance patterns in Great Basin pinyon-juniper woodlands. Rangeland Ecology & Management/Journal of Range Management Archives, 34(4), 259-264.

Ward, L. K. (1982). The conservation of juniper: longevity and old age. Journal of Applied Ecology, 917-928.

Yang, Bao, Dmitry M. Sonechkin, Nina M. Datsenko, Jingjing Liu, and Chun Qin. “Establishment of a 4650-year-long eigenvalue chronology based on tree-ring cores from Qilian junipers (Juniperus przewalskii Kom.) in Western China.” Dendrochronologia 46 (2017): 56-66.

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