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Tree (rarely a shrub) to 30 m, single-stemmed (rarely multistemmed). Bark pale brown, peeling in long, papery sheets. Crown dense and ovoid. Branchlets straight, terete or four-angled, densely or loosely arranged. Juvenile leaves 0.4–0.8 cm long, bright green with two glaucous stripes on the inner face; mature leaves dark green, decussate or (rarely) in whorls of three, appressed, 0.1–0.3 cm long, apex obtuse; leaf resin glands conspicuous. Monoecious (rarely dioecious). Male strobili 0.3–0.4 cm long, microsporophylls six to eight. Female cones ovoid to subglobose, 0.9–1.6 × 0.7–1.3 cm, colour variable (reddish or greyish brown to black). Seeds one per cone. Fu et al. 1999e, Farjon 2005c. Distribution CHINA: Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Xizang. Habitat Forested mountain slopes and valleys between 2700 and 4800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 6. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration NT1. Cross-reference K150.
As with many of the junipers found in Tibet and neighbouring countries, the branches of Juniperus tibetica are used for incense in Buddhist rituals, as well as for normal firewood and building purposes, and their continued gathering for all uses has led some to express concern for the survival of the species (Adams 2004). Where moisture is adequate, it can become a large tree in the wild, and it has the distinction of forming the highest treeline in the northern hemisphere, at 4900 m in southern Tibet (Miehe et al. 2001). It has been collected by at least two expeditions recently: first in Sichuan by the 1994 Alpine Garden Society Expedition to China (ACE 1816), from which source plants are growing at Edinburgh and probably elsewhere; and then by the 2003 Sichuan Expedition of Kirkham, Flanagan, Jamieson and Clements (SICH 2329), at 3040 m in Ruoergai Co., Sichuan. Young plants from this latter trip are still in the nursery at Kew. There are older specimens growing in the Hillier Gardens, the tallest of which (planted 1982) had reached 6.9 m in 2007.