Creeping juniper

Juniperus horizontalis

Common Name: Creeping juniper

  • Low-sprawling evergreen that grows in the dry areas of the beach.
  • All parts of the plant are aromatic.
  • The blue berries are used in the making of gin.
  • Flowers in May and June.

Native or Invasive: Native shrub

Characteristics: Horizontal juniper is a low, long-trailing, vine-like shrub with sprawling stems and numerous short branches that stick up 4-12 inches tall. The leaves are small and flat, non-prickly, scale-like structures that tend to cluster on the upper sides of the branches and overlap like shingles (imbricate). They are usually dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are found on separate plants. The plants set down roots where possible, but if the substrate is too rocky, the plant elongates and “hops” 3-7 feet to colonize a new area. It is found throughout the northern Great Lakes region and as far north as James Bay. It is found all across Canada and in the U.S. from New England to Wyoming and Alaska.

Habitat: Gravelly or rocky shores and dunes. Usually grows not far from the coast in the northern part of the Great Lakes. It also grows along relic ridges that are now far from open water.

Fun Fact: Juniper stabilizes sandy beaches and dunes. Other plants then become established within its protective branches. It also hosts a fungus that forms witch’s brooms in odd-shaped clusters on its branches.

Ethnobotanical Uses: The ripe, blue fruits have long been used to flavor gin and wild game. The berries are often sold in grocery stores at certain times of the year.

Adapted from Guide to Great Lakes Coastal Plants, by Ellen Elliott Weatherbee, University of Michigan Press.