Christmas is around the corner, and for those in the mood for celebration of the season and the spirit, there’s a special Christmas tree right in your backyard, ready to be fussed over. You see it everyday on numerous roundabouts around the city, on boundary walls of residences, even in your offices and schools — the Juniper.
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Turn the search engine on, and you’ll find how this juniper is a genus of Juniperus, and has about 50 to 70 species in the Cypress family. Part of a family of evergreen coniferous trees and shrubs, the juniper makes for a great bonsai, is loaded with history, mentioned in fables and has found its use in the world of medicine and culture too. For starters, there’s a popular Grimm’s fairy tale called ‘The Juniper Tree’.
From trees that can shoot up to 40 meters to low, well-rounded shrubs, the juniper ranges from specimens with a columnar look to long tailing branches to evergreen trees with needle-like or scale-like leaves, berries or cones. The highest forest cover of junipers is in south-eastern Tibet and the northern Himalayas, at 16,000 feet.
While it makes for elegant wreaths as well, the juniper is perfect for creating deadwood, because once dried out, peeled, polished and bleached, it throws up captivating colours of green, reddish or yellowish brown and silvery white. The berries are used as a spice in culinary dishes, in flavouring gin, and in berry sauce. It was a diuretic from the Juniperus communis berries as discovered by a Dutch physician in 18th century that made the plant a part of gin.
For Christmas, in the west, Juniperus virginiana are used in some places, and these are some of the oldest on earth – the Egyptians, apparently, were using juniper wood for building purposes back in 1300 B.C. No wonder then that it is a symbol of longevity, strength, athleticism and fertility. The Juniperus virginiana or the Eastern Red Cedar, as per Native American folklore, was burned to welcome positive energy and peace, and used in medicine too. Also quite popular in Chinese and Japanese culture, these are employed in landscaping, horticulture and bonsais, and for fuel and wood.
From the Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis), the (Juniperus sargentii), the Japanese needle juniper (Juniperus rigida), two central European species: the savin (Juniperus sabina) to Juniperus virginiana and the common juniper (Juniperus communis), there are numerous types of juniper, of various heights, sizes, leaves, foliage, colours, forms and textures. Before picking one, know that each has a purpose, whether for space filling, ground cover, vertical cover, border, or for screens and hedges. Sun-loving plants, they are easy both to source and maintain.