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Juniper   Little - Utah juniper, Rocky Mt Juniper   

Navajo Name: Gad biką'g, “male juniper”,

                    Gad ni’eełii, “drooping juniper”

Family Taxon Genus
Cupressaceae Juniperus sp. Juniperus L.

Classification: 27 species in Juniperus



According to the species account from USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (FEIS), Utah juniper is a short tree that may live as long as 650 years (Loehle 1988). Utah junipers grow less than 26.4 feet (8 m) and are often as short as 9.9 to 14.85 feet (3-4.5 m), with a trunk 4 to 7.5 inches (10-30 cm) thick (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1973; Hickman 1993; Kearney et al. 1960; Ronco 1997). Sometimes the tree has multiple stems (Arnold 1964).

Utah juniper trees will grow in very stunted forms under severe site conditions. A 6-inch tree with a 24-inch (60 cm) taproot may be over 50 years old (Lanner 1983). They grow quite slowly, usually only about 0.05 inch (0.127 cm) in diameter per year (Gottfried 1992; Meeuwig and Bassett 1983).

Utah juniper's taproot extends deep into the soil (as far as 15 feet (4.5 m). Their lateral roots may extend up to 100 feet (30.3 m) from the tree, several inches below the soil surface. Most root biomass is within the first 3 feet (0.9 m) of soil, with fine roots concentrated in the uppermost 18 inches (46 cm) (Skau 1960) or just below the soil surface (Tiedemann 1987). Utah juniper responds to low nutrient levels in the soil by developing extensive networks of fine roots at the base of the tree and at the end of lateral roots. This rooting habit may explain, in part, the competitiveness of juniper with understory species (Kearney et al. 1960; Klopatek 1987). Junipers compete more efficiently for soil moisture than do herbaceous understory plants; therefore, over time, junipers are more likely to maintain a stable population, while understory plants decrease (Austin 1987; Everett et al. 1983; Springfield 1976). However it is interesting to note, a Utah study concluded that Utah junipers do not use soil moisture from summer precipitation and do not have active roots in shallow soils layers during the summer (Donovan 1994).


Utah juniper is the most common tree in the Great Basin and is widely distributed throughout the arid West (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1973; Lanner 1983). The tree occurs occasionally in southern Idaho, southern Montana, and western Wyoming, and is common in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and southeastern California. Utah juniper is the most common juniper species in Arizona (Arnold 1964).

Ceremonies: Blessing Way, Night Chant, Mountain Chant, War Chant, Enemy Way, Evil Way, "War Dance", Enemy Way, Western direction

Ritual Use: