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The role of Juniper Trees

 
Daniel Kern
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What would be the role of Juniper trees in a permaculture system, or in the ecosystem in general?

On a piece of land in TX there are many Juniper trees, and the person managing the land wants to bull doze the trees to make room for more pasture. Most people I talk to mention how they drink so much water. They also transpire great amounts of water.

I was talking to a lady from the Holistic Management International and she said that they are a part of an ecological succession in order to allow for the next step in repairing the landscape. I just cannot figure out what the Junipers could be doing in order to improve the land. Even after a light rain I felt under the juniper and it was dry.
 
Miles Flansburg
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I really do not know either but in my mind I always compare it to what would the land be like without them?

In Wyoming there are lots of areas that are covered with juniper and cedar. They have been there for decades if not centuries. The ground beneath them is not real good ,but is better than the ground on any dirt road that has been scraped through them.

In Wyoming they break the wind, they bring moisture up from depths and share it with other plants and yes send it into the air. Even though we might not be able to tell I think they are helping to change the microclimates around them.

I would also bet that there are mycellium helping them do their work.

I do know that if I were to drive a bulldozer through them , I would be setting the progress of the land back to square one. The only way I could then move it forward would be to irrigate it.

Will you all be irrigating once the trees are gone?

How much wind will there be without the trees?
 
C. Hunter
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My experience is that the junipers laugh at bulldozers ;P

They provide habitat for critters, at least down here- our old property was covered in them and the dogs flushed rabbits out from under them (and the occasional larger critter) about every day. The older, more established stands sometimes have other scrubby trees growing up in the middle of them, so I think that the 'stuff' that collects around them probably adds some depth to shallow soil with not much in it, eventually?
 
Dan Boone
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Here the juniper we have is the one they call "red cedar". It's not a high-value tree by any means but the rabbits and birds do value its dense predator-resistant foilage.

I have some eroding ravines on this property. The junipers growing near it help resist that erosion with their roots.

Also, they are just about the only non-deciduous trees that grow in quantity here. So they are the best local tree for providing winter privacy screening. Thus the ones growing in our fence lines and near the road are welcome.

Where I grew up in the boreal forest, junipers were a scrubby shrub up at the top edge of the tree line where other trees could not survive. They were "home base" for a lot of small wildlife in that harsh environment.
 
Ann Torrence
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I suspect juniper could become a climax species on overgrazed land, like sagebrush in some places, plateauing out succession for decades. Here's an interesting article from Oregon State on juniper's water usage.

Would dozing them away make better pasture? Maybe for a short while, but it will come back even harder without some additional changes to management. The Oregon folks suggest that fire was a major component in control before grazing. That probably isn't going to happen. Any willingness to introduce mob grazing? Might be interesting to do some strip dozing, plant some forage and shade trees, but keep some strips for erosion control. Get ahead of the cedar in the cleared areas, then once the new trees are big enough, clear them out.

Or start raising fence posts. I paid $15 a piece for 12 cedar posts last winter.
 
Mike Patterson
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Around here in Missouri, the eastern red cedar seems to quickly take over prairie or pasture that has been neglected. It appears to have that allopathic quality on the surrounding soil, but it also seems to be a natural part of succession. I've been in many young-ish oak/hickory forests around here where you can still see the random red cedar slowly getting shaded out by the larger trees.

That being said, it is also supposedly a carrier of cedar apple rust, so some folks try to keep it clear of their orchards. I do enjoy the good wind/vision blocking capacity of it, and also appreciate the juniper berries. The wood is rather beautiful and seems to have plenty of practical uses.

-WY
 
Andrew Parker
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Ann, that was a very interesting article. Thank you.

I mentioned in another thread that judicious clearing, with an eye towards deep winter shade and snow accumulation, could substantially increase soil moisture for other plants, or the water table, in the cleared areas.

One of the problems with the branches intercepting snow is that the snow is far more susceptible to sublimation during cold, dry, sunny winter days.

In the intermountain region, junipers are often associated with pinyon pine, so besides their possible use for lumber and firewood, juniper berries and pine nuts can be harvested from well managed stands.
 
Daniel Kern
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I do not want to bull doze the trees, and personally I don't think it will happen, as it is expensive to do so. It may make decent pasture if the trees are removed, but it may make good silvopasture for pigs if they stay.

If the trees were bull dozed I would not irrigate the area. As Andrew mentioned, removing the trees can increase soil moisture, and potentially allow the water table to rise.

Well that article concludes with: Fire must be reintroduced into the system to maintain the correct mix of shrubs and grasses.

I don't know if I agree or not. Personally I like the idea of just letting them be, at least in an area, and watching how the ecosystem progresses. It may even revert to what it once was as part of the post oak ecoregion.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Daniel, when I was working as a Wildlife Control Agent and Ecologist, I would routinely get questions just like yours about different biomes.

"Bulldozers" are not ever a solution to a "perceived" challenge within an ecosystem. The cause way more damage in this application of them than they help the biome. I operated heavy equipment, and these tools can be very helpful in creating "wetlands," and other topographical features...When used to "scrape and scald" the surface of an area free of all its "naturally occurring successive organisms" we, as humans, only display our ignorance of how things are supposed to work.

Fire does have to come back to many of these biomes...and that is the next big hurdle to get landowners to understand. Some are, yet most still want to "force their will" onto the property they "think" they control...most pay for this poor management with only more issues.

Regards,

j

 
Bill Bradbury
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Funny thing, I was helping a pack of PhD ecologist types install artificial Beaver dams yesterday and this very topic came up.
The place where I grew up in Utah is turning into a desert. It is on the edge of a massive salt desert, but also at the foot of 11,000 ft mountains so the water is there. My parents owned a small dry farm in the foothills above town. We grew Alfalfa for our many critters without any tillage or irrigation. When SLC types started moving in, my folks sold their place and moved further away from the city. Our dry farm became sheep pasture for a very lazy man who overgrazed and under rested the land until it gave out. So, like many others in the area, even friends of my folks, he got 2 tractors and a chain between them ripping out the sage, rabbit brush and junipers in order to extend his pasture further up into the foothills. Then burn it all in big piles. Now it's nothing but cheat grass. Our clay soil, left exposed loses all fertility and runs off in a big mess of erosion until it runs into the great salt lake and all water is lost! Now they can't run sheep anymore, only a few head of cows.
So what did the venerable ecologists have to say about this? They are just so specialized that they had no idea what to do. I really like those guys and beaver habitat restoration is a big deal to me, so I don't want to disrespect them or what they do, but they are lacking in the big picture, just like the dumba** ranchers that are taking over the west. These are not the "old timers" who worked in concert with nature, they are their baby boomer children who think they are in control of nature.
This is why I am into permaculture. There are a few leaders in land restoration that we can all take notes from; Allan Savory, sepp holzer, geoff lawton et al are blazing the trail forward for the rest of us to learn and adapt to our own situation.

In my opinion, alleopaths like juniper suppress shallow rooted plants, but have little effect on the deeper rooted ones. Disturbance is our tool, but must be used with wisdom. I would start islands of fertility by building swales and catchment basins, then plant hardy natives and perrenial grasses. Then graze with HPG mangement. My parents have restored the 40 acres of dead land they bought 15 years ago this way, without irrigation(the water table is now so low that their irrigation well brings up salt water).
 
jimmy gallop
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I see it all the time people buy a tree farm and want a hay meadow,dozier the trees .
then some others buy a great hay meadow and want a tree farm plant trees
The worst I've seen fellow bought a working peach tree farm about 100 acres and planted pine trees in them.
back to your question they are there because that's what nature will allow to grow there and a hay field or grazing won't do any good with out large amounts of inputs,
water, fertilizers , etc and some thing to hold these things.
You can fight nature all you want but you can't win, she will out live you!
 
Dale Hodgins
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Over consumption of the berries may cause madness. This Monty Python clip seems to suggest it.
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=krb2OdQksMc

In the places where juniper is dominant, little else of value grows. I think it would be best to find out what grows well in association with them. Use the junipers as nurse trees for other crops. They will block wind, prevent erosion and feed wildlife. They also provide fuel wood and building wood.
 
Andrew Parker
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I found this resource:

http://www.tarleton.edu/Departments/range/Woodlands%20and%20Forest/Juniper-Pinon%20Woodland/juniperpinonwoodland.html

It rambles a bit, but is quite informative. Warning, it is written by a range scientist so it is not particularly friendly toward woody invaders.


A well developed juniper-pinyon forest will also include several complementary species: mesquite, scrub oaks and mountain maples, depending on elevation and latitude, as well as shrubs, yuccas, cactus and grasses.

I wonder if there is a relationship between the invasion of juniper woodland and cheat grass?
 
Dale Hodgins
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I wonder if areas that are now covered in sage brush, could be converted to a mixed juniper landscape. Fire might have to be employed. If I had acres of sage, I would gladly swap it for a mix of scrub trees and whatever works with them.
 
Daniel Kern
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I may try to plant oaks all around the junipers, and various other trees and plants. I will do all that I can to prevent them from being bull dozed, and I will be digging water infiltration basins. And there is already cattle on the land so I plan on begging high performance grazing as soon as the grass starts to grow again.

I just found out about the infiltration basin the other day from Mark Shepard in the new video from Geoff Lawton's website about profit in permaculture. I highly recommend this video.

Wow. Thanks for finding that article from tarleton. Thats exactly where the land is, that helps a lot.

How does fire maintain the "proper" balance of plants?
 
Dale Hodgins
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Some plants have seed pods that must be exposed to fire to open. Other early succession plants must have major disturbance to grow. Over grazed land that never burns, can become stuck at a particular point of succession. Fire can break the deadlock, allowing certain trees and deep rooted accumulators to thrive.

Without fire or mob grazing, pastures can become dominated by plants that are poisonous or unpalatable to livestock.

Native Americans, Australians and other peoples, burned natural pastures to improve grazing and to draw game to preferred hunting grounds.
 
Abe Connally
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I have a lot of junipers, and I use them for partial shade, wind blocks, nurse trees, and trellises. There are a good many plants that have evolved adaptions to the alleopathic properties of junipers. Currants, grapes, oaks, mulberry, lemonade berry, and many others do really well near junipers. I find that vetch grows really well in the better soil around junipers.

Here are some species for juniper-based guilds:
Pinyon pine
golden and wax currants
wild grapes
lambsquarters
prickly pear
cholla
wolfberry
rabbitbrush
dropseed
various yuccas
various oaks and shrub oaks
leaf sumac
wild 4 o'clock
blue gilia
buckwheat
claret cup
scarlet buglar
penstemon
mockorange
chokecherry

N-fixers
mountain mahogany
New Mexico locust
Apache plume
lupine (bluebonnet)
vetch

I cut lower branches to open it up under the junipers, then use what I can for posts, and the rest is used for terracing/hugels. They can produce a lot of biomass, actually, and for areas that have very little biomass, they are a great tree to have around. The pigs love them for shade, and will build huge terraces (swales) around the junipers. Also, goats will eat young junipers and bark on older trees. If you concentrate goats around junipers, in a few months, they will kill them easily.
 
Dan Boone
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Let me add mouse melons (aka creeping cucumber, melothria pendula) to the list of good guild plants for junipers. My thread with pics: http://www.permies.com/t/38477/permaculture/Eastern-Red-Cedar-Mouse-Melons
 
Daniel Kern
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Oh okay. I understand better what the fire can do.

Also thanks for all those possible plant/animal interactions. just the other day I was considering what could happen if I planted an acre of the land covered in junipers with pine, or oak, or a mix of all sorts of trees. It sounds like it may work just fine, and move succession forward.

@abe Tell me more about pigs building swales around the junipers... The more I learn about pigs, the more I want to raise some of my own. They are such great coworkers.

and BTW... ooooooooooh. mouse melons look so cool i want to plant a lot of those!
 
Abe Connally
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We put electric fence strands on contour and then let the pigs make swales/hugles/terraces for us. http://velacreations.com/blog/393-pig-dozer.html

And then, we fill in with wood, compost, manure, etc and build forest gardens in the swales: http://velacreations.com/food/plants/perennials/430-forest-garden-howto.html
 
Daniel Kern
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Wow. That's just one more reason for me to invest in some pig friends.
 
Dave Miller
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Here's an Oregon Field Guide episode on western juniper in eastern Oregon: http://www.opb.org/television/programs/ofg/segment/juniper-control/

There are some people trying to create a market for juniper. I bought some of it and am using it to build a timber framed grape arbor. Supposedly the heartwood is extremely rot-resistant.
 
Bill Bradbury
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They make beautiful pool tables!Juniper pool tables
 
Daniel Kern
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Wow! those pool tables seriously are beautiful. After doing more research and assessing the situation further I believe that the junipers are a pioneer species that have come into a "niche" ecosystem created by years of destructive farming practices. I do not know where the next step in the natural ecosystem progression is but I would assume that the trees are creating conditions for other trees bushes and herbaceous plants to come in. For example Abe Connally gave a nice list of plants adapted to the alleopathic properties of junipers and mentioned that they preform ecosystem services such as providing partial shade, wind blocks, nurse trees, and trellises. Also I see a connection between the trees and the more broad environment. I see that the trees do take up large amounts of water from the ground and a large amount is transpired into the air, but also this water must come back down to the ground. The trees are creating rain which I would assume falls further south, since this is the direction of the prevailing wind. Therefore I see that in short term goals the trees could cause problems, but in the long run they appear to be beneficial,
 
Bill Bradbury
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Bingo!

They also can live a really long time in harsh environments like this one growing out of a craggy cliffside not far from me,

- [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JgiGOEtXVA/[/youtube]
 
David Wood
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Juniperus virgiana AKA Eastern Red Cedar makes a nice timber. Heartwood is regarded as durable. Colour can be red to purple, contrasting nicely with the creamy sapwood. Here's a shot from when a friend and I chainsawmilled a small Eastern Red Cedar.
IMG_2527.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_2527.JPG]
 
Thomas Ziminski
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If you are talking about the Eastern Red Cedar, I know that they are incredibly susceptible to fire.

The low branches easily catch fire and than quickly travel up the tree like a ladder.

Around here they grow in very inhospitable poor soils, rocks, by the ocean, etc.

They are incredibly long lived for a pioneer species (850+ years). They have certain impacts on the soil, making it alkaline, the deep shade it casts doesn't allow for much of anything to grow under them, and they remove nitrogen from prairie soils.

Ecologically they are invaders of grasslands, and periodic fires would serve to hold them back from invading a grassland.
 
Daniel Kern
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Thats what I'm starting to think too. A nice big fire to engulf 10000 acres here in Tx would do a lot of good. But also another option I have been considering is the potential for coppicing the trees and using them to make some sort of furniture Ben Law style, but I really don't know much about it and I don't know where to start.
 
Daniel Kern
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Milled cedar is truly beautiful. There are a couple cedar mills around here. Maybe I need to explore those options more. Although I did just discover a good use for cedar. I don't know how it would coppice but that is not too important because it is so abundant. But the wood has some similar qualities to willow which is used in traditional bentwood woodworking. Yesterday I used some cedar greenwood to make this chair.

I made a 3d model of it here. I think that it starts upside down so if you have this problem just flip the world and you will find the chair.

 
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