juniper, any tree or shrub of the genus Juniperus, aromatic evergreens of the family Cupressaceae (cypress family), widely distributed over the north temperate zone. Many are valuable as a source of lumber and oil. The small fleshy cones are berrylike in appearance. The so-called common juniper ( J. communis ) is found throughout the genus range and is also much cultivated in different varieties, e.g., dwarf and pyramidal. Its cones are the juniper berries used for flavoring gin and other beverages and sometimes in cooking. The juniper most common in North America is usually called red cedar ( J. virginiana ) and is found over most of the E United States. Its fragrant, insect-repellent wood, closegrained but brittle, is much used for chests, closets, posts, woodenware, and pencils, for which uses the large forests of these trees have been depleted. Oil of red cedar has been used in medicine, perfumery, and microscopy. It is the alternate host of the apple-cedar rust. Other trees are sometimes called red cedar. Western juniper, J. occidentalis, of the W United States (not to be confused with the western arborvitae, although both are also called western red cedar) has edible cones. Native Americans also used the cones of other Western species as food and the bark for fiber. Junipers have been used for incense in Asia and by the Plains people in religious ceremonies. Juniper is classified in the division Pinophyta, class Pinopsida, order Coniferales, family Cupressaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.