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A shrub reaching in certain conditions 10 to 15 ft in height, but usually less than half as high; the whole plant emitting a strong, aromatic odour when bruised. The habit is usually stiff and spreading. Leaves of two types; the juvenile awl-shaped, and the adult scale-like. Juvenile leaves in opposite pairs, spine-tipped, 1⁄8 to 1⁄6 in. long, the concave upper side glaucous, except on the margins. The scale-like, genuinely adult leaves are on very slender branchlets, and about 1⁄20 in. long, green, bluntish at the apex, thickened and rounded at the outside, which is marked about the centre with a sunken gland. As in other junipers with dimorphic foliage, there is an intermediate state in which the leaves are larger and more pointed than the fully adult ones. Plants either uni- or bi-sexual. Fruits globose or broadly top-shaped, 1⁄3 to 1⁄4 in. diameter, dark brown, ultimately covered with a blue bloom, and containing usually two seeds.
Native of the mountains of Central and S. Europe, where it is chiefly, but not invariably, found on limestone; also of W. Russia as far east as the Altai. It was cultivated in England in the first half of the 16th century. It is one of the handsomest and most useful of dwarf evergreens, especially for elevated and chalky districts. It is easily increased by cuttings.
Although J. sabina var. cupressifolia Ait. is clearly a synonym of J. sabina L., the plants cultivated under the name are usually dwarf; the example in the Nisbet collection in the R.H.S. Garden at Wisley fruits freely.
Although some new cultivars of this species have been introduced, none seems to be of much importance for this country, most being selections made in the USA from seed collected in Russia, which are of value for their great hardiness, or for their resistance to the juniper blight disease prevalent in some parts of the USA.
var. tamariscifolia – The distribution of this variety in the wild is uncertain. Only one locality is mentioned in Hegi’s Flora von Mitteleuropa (near Zermatt). Roy Lancaster tells us that he saw a stand in the Spanish Pyrenees.