Bonsai Tonight

Junipers on the edge

Posted in Excursions by Jonas Dupuich on June 6, 2014

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.

Looking south

The view to the South – near Carson Pass, California

To the North lies Red Lake Peak.

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

Young lodge pole pine

Very young Sierra juniper

Baby Sierra juniper

Given time, some of these specimens will grow a bit larger.

Young Sierra juniper

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.

Tall Sierra juniper

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

Low profile juniper

Large Sierra 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

Alpine annuals

Alpine annuals

It is at this spot – right along tree line – where the interesting junipers grow.

Large Sierra juniper

Sprawling juniper with deadwood

These trees can grow in clumps or on their own.

The juniper zone

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 up to treeline

Junipers growing out of the granite

We’ll take a closer look at these next week.

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6 Responses

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  1. Lyons Bonsai said, on June 6, 2014 at 4:42 am

    Reblogged this on Lyons Bonsai and commented:
    Really interesting read. Thanks again

  2. joshuabertetta8306 said, on June 6, 2014 at 6:30 am

    Ah, California

  3. endsurg said, on June 6, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Beautiful. Can they be collected? If so, can they survive at lower elevations?

  4. Jonas Dupuich said, on June 6, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Sierra junipers can be collected, but not from this location, and they do great at lower elevations. Interestingly, their foliage turns a blueish-silver color at lower elevations.

  5. Sonny Winters said, on June 6, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Can you collect deadwood if it is not attached to a live tree?

  6. Jonas Dupuich said, on June 6, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    Good question – I’d check with the El Dorado National Forest about a Forest Products Permit.

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