This is the first juniper I fell for on my previous visit to Meiss Meadow.
Twisty Sierra juniper
It’s one of the twistiest specimens I know of. The deadwood is great.
From some angles it’s difficult to tell if the trunk line is coming or going.
So many twists
How large is this specimen?
Posing with a great juniper
When approaching the tree from below, it’s easy miss the great curves.
The twisty juniper from below
The sheer variety of fun trees at Meiss Meadow is hard to overstate.
A profusion of trunks and deadwood
A relatively straightforward juniper with bonsai-sized companion at its base
Another twisting juniper
The tree below would make an interesting bonsai.
The same tree from the side
Another tree brought a big smile. This long juniper took advantage of shelter at its base and found a nice perch for its foliage about 20 feet away.
Looking up, some of the larger trees sported branches that resembled cascade or semi-cascade bonsai.
A beautiful old branch
Looking down on some of the larger trees with dieback near the apex reminded me of the form some of the older bristlecone pines can take.
Two large junipers
Among my favorites were these two giants.
A pair of giants
That’s it for this trip to the Sierra Nevada – next week it’s back to bonsai!
Among my favorite trees in nature is this Sierra juniper.
Spectacular Sierra juniper
The tree sits on a throne facing East where it enjoys limited protection from the wind. It gives evidence to a protracted and tortuous existence. How big is it?
Standing on the rock behind the tree for perspective
Pretty big. The deadwood is terrifying.
Possibly because I take so much enjoyment from being in the mountains, let alone being near such trees, this was the first visit on which I was able to step back a bit and appreciate how these junipers survive in such an environment. Some of what I noticed surprised me. Although the most sinuous specimens occasionally cascaded down the granite, they more frequently grew upwards, supported by the boulders from which their roots sprang.
Juniper creeping up the rock
In addition to providing a solid anchor for the roots, the boulders provide support to branches attempting to grow towards the light. When there was no stone to cling to, and when a slight protrusion in the stone offered additional shelter, the occasional cascading branch descended.
Lower down on the same boulder was a fully cascading juniper.
Cascade Sierra juniper
The deadwood and trunk line is impressive
I found a surprising number of trees that followed the same general pattern – roots emerging from stone and a silhouette that mirrored the shape of the boulder below. On the smaller side, some of these extended no more than 3′ above the base of the roots.
Some larger trees followed the same pattern.
One of my favorite silhouettes
Junipers growing at the base of larger boulders took on quite different characteristics. The large juniper below sported a variety of deadwood ranging from sinuous and twisty to wild and splintered.
Large Sierra juniper – no twists in the main trunk
The branches were a different story.
Zigs and zags
Below this, a lower trunk sported what looked like a wave or a fold of soft fabric.
Deadwood on the lower trunk
The side with the greatest exposure to the elements looked it.
I took a different route than I’d taken in the past which brought me to a few new trees – some alive, some dead. The dead specimen below had some of the more beautiful and flame-like movement on the mountain.
In the lee of the stone on which this tree once grew was one of my new favorites. The shot below fails to convey the highlights, but the short version is that the tree starts with a base over 6′ wide and tapers to nothing at 3′ where the entire tree loops back down behind the shelter of the boulder. A cascading branch protrudes to the right.
Looping apex, cascading branch
Just below this tree I found a large semi-cascade juniper. The giant base was about 6′ across.
Semi-cascade Sierra juniper
Other junipers simply made up shapes like the corkscrew below.
More common – and more iconic – were the specimens that rose up at one point but were subsequently buffeted by the elements and knocked down to a much lower height.
In these specimens there is little question about which side bears the brunt of the elements.
Windswept Sierra juniper
This phenomenon is borne out by the general landscape on which little sticks around that’s not anchored to stone.
Pausing to enjoy the view
Up next – final highlights from Meiss Meadow.
The Sierra juniper, Juniperus occidentalis, is found in pockets throughout the Sierra Nevada. When exposed to particularly harsh conditions like those found at tree line – the elevation above which no trees can grow – junipers can display krummholz. Krummholz is the phenomenon whereby trees are dwarfed or contorted by the elements. Among the many varieties prone to the formation of krummholz, junipers can take on some of the most sinuous of forms.
The best specimens I’m aware of can be found near Meiss Meadow in the vicinity of Carson Pass, California. I first visited these trees years ago with Daisaku Nomoto and Boon Manakitivipart. Boon periodically leads groups to the site and for this I’m thankful as it’s one of my favorite alpine hangouts – thanks Boon!
A short walk from the parking lot puts one just above a lush forest of lodge pole pine.
The view to the South – near Carson Pass, California
To the North lies Red Lake Peak.
Scattered juniper and lodge pole pine on Red Lake Peak
At this elevation, around 8,750′, Sierra junipers and a handful of lodge pole pines struggle against the elements. Unbelievably, even young trees can find support in the granite outcroppings.
Young lodge pole pine
Baby Sierra juniper
Given time, some of these specimens will grow a bit larger.
Young Sierra juniper
If the conditions are right, these junipers can grow tall and straight like so many other forest trees. Here’s a juniper growing in good soil that enjoys some protection from the elements.
Vigorous juniper – no evidence of krummholz
About 300 yards away, a juniper hugged the ground against which it grew, unable to grow any higher.
Low profile juniper
The same tree from above
Looking up the mountainside from this point revealed a barren landscape – a shocking contrast to the pine-filled valley below.
A high desert of sorts
It is at this spot – right along tree line – where the interesting junipers grow.
Sprawling juniper with deadwood
These trees can grow in clumps or on their own.
Scattered juniper and pine
The most exciting ones – those that have lived the longest – hugged a granite ridge offering shelter from the wind.
Junipers growing out of the granite
We’ll take a closer look at these next week.
Although Daisaku Nomoto is well known for his pine work, he’s also a big fan of junipers and deciduous varieties. Walking through his nursery was a great opportunity to see trees that were well developed next to trees still in the project phase.
Shimpaku with great deadwood
The tree below was one of my favorite project trees in the garden. I’d be very curious to see it after further refinement.
A number of the smallest junipers in the garden were fairly well developed. They were also green as they were protected from the cold in a greenhouse for the winter. The outdoor junipers had all taken on the usual brown cast that wears off in Spring.
A tree grown by one of Nomoto’s customers – what’s with the pot?
Shimpaku growing in a wire mesh basket set in a clay pot
A Japanese maple in development
Young Kiyohime maples