Nature Study: Ashe Juniper

If you live in Texas, chances are, you’ve heard of Cedar Fever, a common ailment of those who live in the Hill Country.  It is, ironically, not actually a fever, nor is it caused by cedar.  It is an allergic response to the pollen from the ashe juniper tree (juniperus ashei), commonly known as the mountain juniper (or mountain cedar), which is found all over the Edwards Plateau.  Curious as to why these Junipers got stuck with the name of cedar?  Pop over here for those details.

For those that suffer from the infamous cedar fever, symptoms range from runny nose and itchy eyes to fatigue and congestion.  While the pollen counts are typically highest during the winter, Cedar season can stretch well into March.  Not a fun time for those that are affected (as this author so well articulates).

William was happy to demonstrate the release of the pollen although we saw plenty of clouds of pollen being released by the wind without William’s help.

For the rest of us, though, Ashe Junipers are an interesting study.  Ashe Junipers are in the Cypress family.  They are dioecious, meaning there are male and female trees.  The female variety has delightful blue fruit that closely resembles a berry, but is in actuality a modified cone; the males produce cones that hold the pollen that leads to the dreaded cedar fever.

Last year we visited Balcones Canyonlands and hiked through dense ashe juniper growth, not really stopping to appreciate the complexity of the junipers.  So recently when we did some camping at Lost Maples, we seized the opportunity to learn more.

At Balcones Canyonlands there were Ashe Junipers as far as we could see.

Ashe Junipers literally cover the landscape along the Edwards Plateau.  I went back through our old pictures from campgrounds in the Hill Country and sure enough, there was the Ashe Juniper dotting the background of the vast majority of our photos.

Entering the East Trail at Lost Maples brought us up close and personal to an Ashe Juniper grove.

Upon close examination by the children, we made quite a few little interesting notes.

On the St. Edward’s Trail in Austin, Katie discovered the joy of the cedar smell on the Ashe Junipers.

First of all, the leaves, which are scale-like, give off a delightful cedar smell when rubbed between little fingers.  (I seriously wash about as much in juniper leaves as I do in socks…pretty sure my kids fill their pockets with the cedar-smelling leaves of every tree they pass because who doesn’t love the smell of cedar?)  The foliage of the Ashe Juniper stays a lovely dark green throughout the winter, whereas the foliage of the Eastern Red Juniper changes to something of an olive green to a yellowish green, often turning bronze during the winter season.

The fruit, a berry-look-alike, are blue and apparently make an easy addition to a nature journal as a few of the kids chose to make that tiny fruit the star of their journaling page.  The “berry” produced is not the juniper berry used medicinally nor is it the berry used to make gin, but it is a favorite amongst birds and wildlife critters like deer, raccoons, and coyotes.

Ashe Junipers are multi-trunked (making it easy to differentiate between the Ashe Juniper and the single-trunked Eastern Red Juniper, both of which have blue fruit; the other Junipers in Texas have red fruit). The bark of the Ashe Juniper is seriously so fun!  It flakes off in long strips which makes it an enticing find for the rare Golden Cheeked Warblers who use it to make their nests.  The bark also has white rings on it (again, unlike the Eastern Red Juniper), which is why it is commonly referred to as white cedar.

We could easily spot the female trees with their fruit and soon found ourselves quickly spotting the male trees with their cones which are essentially their pollen sacs.  The flower is produced in the winter, with fruit maturing in the summer and fall and then seeds being dispersed during the winter.

Here I am holding a small twig taken off of a male tree beside the branch of a female tree.

I’m not entirely sure, but this looks remarkably like a juniper gall.

Another gall on the male variety?

Here are the infamous pollen sacs on the male trees.

Here are the modified cones of the female trees, the blue “fruit” of the Ashe Juniper.

So tell me what you see when you look at this photo…(you should be able to identify the Ashe Junipers and tell me which are male and which are female!)

{Being intentional is so much easier done when we slow down and really look around us.  Personally, we spend a lot of time in nature, partly because we follow a Charlotte Mason education, but mostly because it keeps us intentional in our thoughts and actions.  I invite you, in these Nature Study posts, to join us in our intentional journey…to train your eye to be observant, to relish the intricacies of the amazing world we live in and to spend more time with the people you love stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.  If you are in the South Texas area (Corpus Christi and the surrounding cities), then you’ll find these nature lessons tailored perfectly to you and your family…see if you can find what we’re finding!  If you live somewhere beyond our beautiful little corner of the world then use these lessons as a springboard…see what we’re observing, allow yourself to be inspired and then just get out there and be intentional, observant, and grateful for all the little surprises right outside your back door.}

One thought on “Nature Study: Ashe Juniper

  1. This was so interesting and I know how much you loved doing the research when you were here. I certainly see trees etc differently now. The art class actually helped that too. Thanks for sharing. Love you all.

    Liked by 1 person

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