The Under-Appreciated Ashe Juniper

Ashe Juniper is a such a fantastic wildlife tree — with its berries, foliage, canopy, and bark, it serves many an animal species. But many humans aren’t crazy about the tree. Those who can’t stand it likely suffer from seasonal allergies, because the pollen of this tree is the major culprit behind many a runny nose for several months of the year.

Other naysayers are ranchers, because Ashe Juniper has a knack for taking advantage of overgrazed land. Ashe Juniper is so misunderstood that many people refer to it as “cedar,” but in fact it is not a cedar tree at all! And here in Central Texas, we have the highest numbers of Ashe Junipers around, so I assume that the allergy professionals in our area all have thriving businesses.

Unfortunately, Ashe Juniper’s bad reputation has made many people overlook its exceptional value to wildlife. It’s a top ten for many berry-eating birds, including Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, and Mockingbirds. And the birds are important to the tree as well — they consume the berries and disperse the seeds.

In fact, the seeds’ germination rates improve greatly once they pass through an avian digestive system. Mammals such as foxes and raccoons also consume the berries, and deer will munch on the foliage when food is scarce in the winter.

Up in the canopy, the dense evergreen foliage offers year-round cover and favorable nesting sites for birds. Even the long strips of exfoliated bark from older Ashe Junipers serve as an important nest material for different bird species.

And the Ashe Juniper is a larval host for a very beautiful butterfly, the Juniper Hairstreak.

With all its positive attributes, it’s a shame that Ashe Juniper doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves. In fact, wintertime is when the Ashe Juniper’s chance at popularity reaches an all-time low. The male trees spread their heaviest pollen from December through February (the primary contributor to winter allergies), but the pollen season can start as early as October and continue as late as May. Time for people to stock up on tissues!

Ashe Juniper

Out in the hill country, ranchers put a lot of blame on Ashe Juniper for how it spreads so easily. And yet the reason it does is because of how vastly the agricultural industry has altered the landscape over the past two centuries. Overgrazing, the suppression of fire, and the historic felling of giant groves of trees to create crop fields or grassland have all had a drastic effect on the biodiversity of native plants.

One of the first trees to return to cleared or damaged land happens to be the native Ashe Juniper, and since overgrazing selectively removes natural plant competition, before long it can create a thicket. However, studies are showing that Ashe Juniper is not a heavy water user, as many people believe, nor does it prevent plants from growing under its branches, as others have complained. Yaupon, Texas Smoke Tree, Cedar Sage, Silk Tassel, and Zexmenia, for example, all thrive in the understory of the Ashe Juniper.

Because Ashe Juniper and humans haven’t had the best relationship, people seem quick to want to cut down the trees. The commercial value of Ashe Junipers — rot-resistant wood and useful insect-repellant oils — adds to the quick justification on such actions. But cutting down Ashe Junipers without discretion has had an unfortunate effect on animal species already suffering from habitat loss. For example, the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler depends entirely on mature groves of Ashe Juniper for its nesting material — even another species of Juniper won’t do.

I don’t mind blowing my nose for wildlife. That’s a small price to pay, compared to the one the animals have to for us.

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About the Author

With the endless passion for organic living, I - Ann Sanders has come up with the idea of creating A Green Hand. Being the founder and editor of A Green Hand, my goal is to provide everyone with a wide range of tips about healthy lifestyle with multiform categories including gardening, health & beauty, food recipe,...

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