Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Juniperus deppeana, Alligator Juniper

Alligator-Juniper is a non-flowering gymnosperm with both pollen and seed cones. The seed cones are sub-spherical to broad-ellipsoid, green maturing bluish to usually red-tan to red-brown in the second year. Juniperus deppeana Alligator-Juniper has distinctive bark that is fissured or furrowed into checkered or rectangular plants. Juniperus deppeana Alligator-Juniper is a native perennial shrub or tree with a single trunk. Plants are dioecious and have both pollen and seed cones. Juniperus deppeana Alligator-Junipers are large shrubs or trees that may grow up to 65 feet tall. They are found in elevations ranging from 4,500 to 10,000 feet. They prefer rocky soils, slopes and mountains. Juniperus deppeana

Scientific Name: Juniperus deppeana
Common Name: Alligator Juniper
Also Called: Alligator Juniper, Checkerbark Juniper, Mountain Cedar, Oakbark Cedar, Thickbark Cedar, Western Juniper, (Spanish: Tascate, Tacate, Tlascal)
Family: Cupressaceae, Cypress Family
Synonyms: (Juniperus deppeana ssp. sperryi, Juniperus deppeana var. pachyphlaea, Juniperus deppeana var. sperryi, Juniperus mexicana, Juniperus pachyderma)
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: Up to 65 feet tall.
Growth Form: Shrub, Tree; single trunk; stems bark ashy gray on the outside and dark brown to black on the inside; deeply fissured or furrowed into rectangular or checkered plates.
Leaves: Leaves usually decussate, closely appressed; scale-like; gland obvious.
Flower Color: Non-flowering species; cones only; gymnosperm; dioecious; pollen and seed cones terminal; seed cones sub-spheric to broad-ellipsoid; green maturing bluish to usually red-tan to red-brown in second year; glaucous, dry hard.
Flowering Season: January to March; cones; Non-flowering gymnosperm.
Elevation: 4,500 to 10,000 feet across range.

Habitat Preferences: Rocky soils, slopes, and mountains.

Recorded Range: Alligator Juniper is found in the Southwestern United States in AZ, NM and TX. Largest populations are found in Arizona. It is also common throughout northwestern and central Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Juniperus deppeana.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.

Wetland Indicator: No information available. In North America species has the following wetland designations: Arid West, FACU; Great Plains, FACU; Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, FACU.
FACU = Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands.

Threatened/Endangered Information: No information available.

Genus Information: In North America there are 30 species and 43 accepted taxa overall for Juniperus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 75 accepted species names and a further 394 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona and New Mexico each have 8 species of Juniperus, California has 5 species, Nevada has 6 species, Texas has 8 species, Utah has 4 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

Comments: Alligator Juniper is one of the largest Junipers in the southwestern United States. It is important to wildlife. Its berries are eaten by birds and mammals. The plants are important for cover value providing habitat, nest sites, shade and shelter for many bird and other species. Young and mature trees provide cover for elk, deer and several small mammals.

For a comprehensive thoroughly documented review of Juniperus deppeana see the USDA USFS Fire Effects Information System, or FEIS.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: California Juniper, Juniperus californica, Redberry Juniper, Juniperus coahuilensis, Oneseed Juniper, Juniperus monosperma, Utah Juniper, Juniperus osteosperma and Arizona Cypress, Cupressus arizonica.

Alligator Juniper has been used for food by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.

  • Apache Food, Fruit; Berries boiled for food.
  • Navajo, Ramah Food, Fruit; Fruit eaten raw or boiled and ground.
  • Yavapai Food, Beverage; Ground berries made into a meal, water added and used as a beverage.
  • Yavapai Food, Bread & Cake; Ground berries made into a meal, stored in baskets and later made into a cake by dampening.
  • Yavapai Food, Beverage; Pulverized berries soaked in water, put in mouth and juice sucked, the solid matter spat out.
  • Yavapai Food, Staple Ground berries made into a meal, water added and used as a beverage.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 07/17/2017, updated format 10/12/2017
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 06/25/2017)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 06/25/2017).
    Tirmenstein, D. 1999. Juniperus deppeana. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
    Available: [2017, July 17].
    Bartel, Jim A. 1994. Vascular Plants of Arizona: Cupressaceae. J. Ariz. - Nev. Acad. Sci. Volume 27, 195-200.
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: 07/17/2017]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information - (accessed 07/17/2017).