Before moving to San Antonio, Texas I had never heard of Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei). Often called “Mountain Cedar” by locals, it is the cause of the dreaded Cedar Fever. It didn’t take long after moving here to start feeling the symptoms – the stuffy nose, itchy eyes and headache. I now succumb to Cedar Fever each winter, as the male Ashe Juniper trees unleash their clouds of pollen.
However, the more I learn about this native Texas tree, the more I have grown to appreciate it rather than despise it! Mountain Cedar gets a bad rap, so I thought I would try to improve its reputation by sharing some cool facts. First, here is a little more about it if you are new to this evergreen tree:
Is Mountain Cedar Really a Cedar Tree?
First, let’s dispel a common misunderstanding. Even though these trees are commonly called “Mountain Cedar”, they are not Cedar trees! When the first Europeans saw them they thought they resembled the Cedar trees of Europe and the name stuck. However, the trees are actually Ashe Junipers, part of the Cypress family of trees. True Cedar trees are part of the Pine family.
Scientific Name: Juniperus ashei
The scientific name for Ashe Juniper just sounds like a fancy version of it: Juniperus ashei. You can start using that name to impress all your friends!
Like all plants, Juniperus ashei has one scientific name but many common names. In addition to Mountain Cedar, other common names for Ashe Juniper include Post Cedar and Texas Cedar among others.
Is Ashe Juniper native to Texas?
According to the USDA, Ashe Juniper is native to the following states:
However, some of the biggest concentrations of Ashe Juniper can be found right here in the Texas Hill Country where I live! It is one of six different types of Juniper trees native to Texas.
5 Cool Facts about Mountain Cedar (Ashe Juniper)
1. It has been around for thousands of years
According to research at Baylor University, Ashe Juniper has been growing in the United States since the late Pleistocene era. That is as far back as 125,000 years ago. Ashe Juniper was growing when mammoths and saber-toothed tigers roamed the Earth. Talk about a hardy tree!
2. There is a lot more of it now than before European settlers
It is hard to picture a Texas Hill Country landscape without seeing Live Oak and Ashe Juniper trees as far as the eye can see. However, this wasn’t always the case. Early European explorers mention dense “Cedar brakes” growing along limestone canyons in their travels across the Texas Hill Country. Ashe Juniper was definitely around, but primarily limited to hillsides and interspersed between vast grasslands.
Without natural fires to control its growth, Ashe Juniper has exploded to form dense thickets in natural areas and private ranches. Too much Mountain Cedar is not necessarily a good thing. Managing its growth is important to maintaining biodiversity.
3. It exclusively supports an endangered species
However, the prevalence of Ashe Juniper is not a bad thing if you are a Golden Cheeked Warbler! This beautiful songbird is endangered and only nests in the Texas Hill Country. It uses the bark of Ashe Juniper trees almost exclusively to build its nests. Without Ashe Junipers there would be no Golden Cheeked Warblers.
Fun fact: I saw my first Golden Cheeked Warbler when we spent a weekend in Utopia, TX last summer. I was standing quietly by a stream watching some birds play in the water, when a Golden Cheek Warbler landed on a low branch of a tree a few feet from me.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was close enough to reach out and touch. I was dying to reach for my camera, I didn’t want to scare it away. So you’ll just have to take my word for it!
4. Female Ashe Juniper trees create “berries”, males create pollen
If you see a Mountain Cedar tree with billows of yellow pollen “smoke” coming off it in January, that is a male tree. There is a large male tree in our neighbors’ backyard, and I have a prime viewing spot of it from our kitchen window. I watch as its evergreen needles turn from green to yellow as the pollen is released.
If you see a Cedar tree with dark blue berries, those are actually the fleshy cones of the female tree. The “berries” provide an important food sources to birds and small mammals. Humans can also eat them, and apparently you can make them into a jam if you are very adventurous!
5. It is a larval host plant
A native plant that serves as a host plant to butterflies and moths is always a good thing. It turns out that this tree is the host plant to the Juniper Hairstreak Butterfly. It lays its eggs in Juniper trees.
Remember Mountain Cedar is a Friend, Not a Foe!
From now on when you see a Mountain Cedar, you can show off your new knowledge by calling it by its more accurate name – Ashe Juniper. Or for brownie points, call it by its scientific name Juniperus ashei!
I also hope you think about it as an important nesting home to the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler, an important source of berries for wildlife, and a nursery for caterpillars of the Juniper Hairstreak. More caterpillars means more food for birds! Learn more about these important ecological connections in my Top 6 Benefits of Native Plants in Your Yard.