1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Juniper

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JUNIPER. The junipers, of which there are twenty-five or more species, are evergreen bushy shrubs or low columnar trees, with a more or less aromatic odour, inhabiting the whole of the cold and temperate northern hemisphere, but attaining their maximum development in the Mediterranean region, the North Atlantic islands, and the eastern United States. The leaves are usually articulated at the base, spreading, sharp-pointed and needle-like in form, destitute of oil-glands, and arranged in alternating whorls of three; but in some the leaves are minute and scale-like, closely adhering to the branches, the apex only being free, and furnished with an oil-gland on the back. Sometimes the same plant produces both kinds of leaves on different branches, or the young plants produce acicular leaves, while those of the older plants are squamiform. The male and female flowers are usually produced on separate plants. The male flowers are developed at the ends of short lateral branches, are rounded or oblong in form, and consist of several antheriferous scales in two or three rows, each scale bearing three or six almost spherical pollen-sacs on its under side. The female flower is a small bud-like cone situated at the apex of a small branch, and consists of two or three whorls of two or three scales. The scales of the upper or middle series each bear one or two erect ovules. The mature cone is fleshy, with the succulent scales fused together and forming the fruit-like structure known to the older botanists as the galbulus, or berry of the juniper. The berries are red or purple in colour, varying in size from that of a pea to a nut. They thus differ considerably from the cones of other members of the order Coniferae, of Gymnosperms (q.v.), to which the junipers belong. The seeds are usually three in number, sometimes fewer (1), rarely more (8), and have the surface near the middle or base marked with large glands containing oil. The genus occurs in a fossil state, four species having been described from rocks of Tertiary age.

The genus is divided into three sections, Sabina, Oxycedrus and Caryocedrus. Juniperus Sabina is the savin, abundant on the mountains of central Europe, an irregularly spreading much-branched shrub with scale-like glandular leaves, and emitting a disagreeable odour when bruised. The plant is poisonous, acting as a powerful local and general stimulant, diaphoretic, emmenagogue and anthelmintic; it was formerly employed both internally and externally. The oil of savin is now occasionally used criminally as an abortifacient. J. bermudiana, a tree about 40 or 50 ft. in height, yields a fragrant red wood, which was used for the manufacture of “cedar” pencils. The tree is now very scarce in Bermuda, and the “red cedar,” J. virginiana, of North America is employed instead for pencils and cigar-boxes. The red cedar is abundant in some parts of the United States and in Virginia is a tree 50 ft. in height. It is very widely distributed from the Great Lakes to Florida and round the Gulf of Mexico, and extends as far west as the Rocky Mountains and beyond to Vancouver Island. The wood is applied to many uses in the United States. The fine red fragrant heart-wood takes a high polish, and is much used in cabinet-work and inlaying, but the small size of the planks prevents its more extended use. The galls produced at the ends of the branches have been used in medicine, and the wood yields cedar-camphor and oil of cedar-wood. J. thurifera is the incense juniper of Spain and Portugal, and J. phoenicea (J. lycia) from the Mediterranean district is stated by Loudon to be burned as incense.

J. communis, the common juniper (see fig.), and several other species, belong to the section Oxycedrus. The common juniper is a very widely distributed plant, occurring in the whole of northern Europe, central and northern Asia to Kamchatka, and east and west North America. It grows at considerable elevations in southern Europe, in the Alps, Apennines, Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada (4000 to 8000 ft.). It also grows in Asia Minor, Persia, and at great elevations on the Himalayas. In Great Britain it is usually a shrub with spreading branches, less frequently a low tree. In former times the juniper seems to have been a very well-known plant, the name occurring almost unaltered in many languages. The Lat. juniperus, probably formed from juni — crude form of juvenis, fresh, young, and parere, to produce, is represented by Fr. genièvre, Sp. enebro, Ital. ginepito, &c. The dialectical names, chiefly in European languages, were collected by Prince L. L. Bonaparte, and published in the Academy (July 17, 1880, No. 428, p. 45). The common juniper is official in the British pharmacopoeia and in that of the United States, yielding the oil of juniper, a powerful diuretic, distilled from the unripe fruits. This oil is closely allied in composition to oil of turpentine and is given in doses of a half to three minims. The Spiritus juniperi of the British pharmacopoeia is given in doses up to one drachm. Much safer and more powerful diuretics are now in use. The wood is very aromatic and is used for ornamental purposes. In Lapland the bark is made into ropes. The fruits are used for flavouring gin (a name derived from juniper, through Fr. genièvre); and in some parts of France a kind of beer called genévrette was made from them by the peasants. J. Oxycedrus, from the Mediterranean district and Madeira, yields cedar-oil which is official in most of the European pharmacopoeias, but not in that of Britain. This oil is largely used by microscopists in what is known as the “oil-immersion lens.”

The third section, Caryocedrus, consists of a single species, J. drupacea of Asia Minor. The fruits are large and edible: they are known in the East by the name habhel.


Britannica 1911 Juniper - J. communis.jpg


(From Bentley and Trimen's Medicinal Plants, by permission of J. & A. Churchill.)

Juniper (Juniperus communis) half nat. size.

1. Vertical section of fruit.
2. Male catkin.