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Sierra juniper

Scientific Name:
Juniperus occidentalis
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: wa'˙pui (Kelly 1932); tuupi (Couture et al. 1986); wápui (Fowler 1989); wápi (Fowler 1989)
  2. Pit River: mahuop (Garth 1953); mahuawop (Garth 1953)


Juniperus occidentalis is a small tree that grows up to 15 m tall. Mature individuals develop full crowns, heavy limbs, and a ragged, gnarled appearance. Their scale leaves are dark green with a glandular pit on the external surface and whorled in 3s. Pollen cones are oblong and 2 to 3 mm in length. Seed cones are blue-green maturing to blue-black, resinous and 7 to 12 mm in length. Seeds are ovoid, strongly angled and 3 to 4 mm in length. This species produces cones from May to June.

Identification Tips

Juniperus occidentalis is distinguished from other trees in the genus Juniperus by its glandular, scale leaves that are whorled but not closely appressed.

Starch granules

Starch granule analysis in progress.


Juniperus occidentalis grows at elevation between 700 to 2300 m in semi-arid intermountain areas with dry, hot summers and cold winters. 


This species grows in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.


Juniperus occidentalis was essential to the Northern Paiute and the Pit River who used the plant to make tools, clothes, shelter. They also ate juniper berries and used multiple parts of the plant for medicinal purposes.

As food

Northern Paiute: “The Gidü'tikad used to manufacture a beverage from juniper berries (wa'˙pui).  The fruits were picked, broken in the hands, and water added.  After a thorough stirring, the pitch rose to the top and was skimmed off with a blade of grass.  The beverage was served in individual willow bowls and drunk immediately.  Sometimes is was mixed with pounded deer liver to make a "gravy." Juniper berries were never kept any length of time.” (Kelly 1932:100)

Northern Paiute:: “Juniper berries were considered by most to be "starvation food."” (Fowler 1989:49)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to the berries of juniper (Juniperus occidentalis)] Wápui is juniper berries  and wápi is juniper.  When there was a good growth of juniper, when the berries are big, they are gathered and eaten.  The berries are roasted in a parching tray.  They are put in warm water and the berries are crushed and the seeds squeezed out with the fingers.” (Fowler 1989:50)

Pit River: “Juniper berries (mahuop, Juniperus occidentalis) were eaten fresh and were also dried, pounded into flour, and stored.” (Garth 1953:139)

Pit River: “[In regards to the Hammawi] [Berries from the higher lands were collected]: salmon berries, bear berries, juniper berries; with the wild plum and wild buckwheat.  All these could be dried, ground, and stored away for the winter.” (Kniffen 1928:305)

As medicine

Northern Paiute: “There is a large series of cold remedies....Leaves of young sage and juniper were boiled, either separately or mixed.  The brewed leaves were used as a compress and tea drunk for colds, coughs, and sore throat.  It was especially good for children and infants.” (Kelly 1932:197)

Northern Paiute: “Rheumatism was a common and dreaded ailment, but there were a few remedies...The sweat bath, it was said, helped rheumatism as did also the "hot bed" made of heated stones covered with juniper boughs and blankets.” (Kelly 1932:198)

Northern Paiute: “Juniper berries were used medicinally.” (Couture et al. 1986:154)

Northern Paiute: “This species of juniper has a wide distribution in Nevada and is the one most commonly encountered.  Where the other species coincide in rage with this one it is apparent that the Indians do not always distinguish among them.  At any rate the Indian names and the remedial applications are much the same for all the species.  With this in mind it is to be assumed that the data presented in this report under Juniperus utahensis can apply equally to J. occidentalis....The Shoshoes and Paiutes are partial to this plant as the basis of cold and cough remedies.  Usually a tea is made simply by boiling the young, terminal twigs, but there were some variations, such as...using the boiled berries only...and one report suggested the use of the green fruits...According to one report the leaves were smoked and the fumes inhaled for head colds...or fumes from branches may be inhaled...The decocion of young twigs serves also for a number of other ailments.  It is taken internally as a tea for a blood a hot tea for reduce fevers...for kidney trouble...and for influenza... A plain twig decoction was given for venereal disease...but one remedy was made by boiling the resin of either Pinus monophylla or Abies concolor with the cracked juniper berries. Other external remedies utilizing the twigs were reported.  A strong solution of the boiled material was esteemed as an antiseptic wash...for sores..the discomfort of measles is relieved by rubbing heated twigs on the erutpions...The mashed young twigs were made into poultices..for swellings...or the same material when boiled served as a poultice for rheumatism and the cooled solution used as a wash...In a number of settlements the branches (or once the berries only) were burned as a fumigant after illness...The fumes from burning twigs, when inhaled, were believed to clear up headaches and colds...The prepartion of the Indian sweat bath was described by individuals in two localities.  In this instance the treatment was recommended for rheumatism or heavy colds.  A fire was kept burning in a specially made exavation until the ground became heated.  The fire was then raked out and replaced with a layer of young juniper twigs.  The patient reclined on top and was covered with blankets to induce sweating...The root of the plant was mentioned but once and in that instance it was said that the dried material was shaved finely and boiled as tea to be taken for venereal disease...The boiled berries were taken as a tea for kidney ailment, and especially to induce urination...The method of preparation, as described in one of these reports, consisted in boiling nine berries in a quart of water.  The dose was a half-cupful three to four times a day.  In one remedy the green berries were recommended for making the tea...The liquid from the boiled berries had other uses too.  The cold tea, in doses of less than a half-cupful a day for a week, was a blood tonic...less than a half-cupful was given for menstrual cramps...For rheumatism the berries were boiled in a small amount of water and the tea taken several times a day; and the solution was applied also as hot packs to the afflicted parts.” (Train et al 1957:62-64)

Pit River: “Juniper (mahuop) berries were chewed raw to cure a cold.  If there were no berries, the leaves and bark were boiled to make a kind of tea and the mixture was drunk.” (Garth 1953:141)

As clothes

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to porcupine-quill decoration] All agreed that the quills were dyed yellow by being boiled with a lichen (Evernia vulpina) found on dry junipers.” (Kelly 1932:107)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to shirts] A fringe was made of porcupine quills…The porcupine quills were boiled with yellow juniper berries.  The quills turn yellow.” (Fowler 1989:102)

Northern Paiute: “A necklace frequently consisted of alternate beads and juniper berries.” (Kelly 1932:117)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to quillwork] The yellow dye is made from the yellow stuff that is found on the bark of the juniper tree.“  (Fowler 1989:116)

Northern Paiute: “Snowshoes (sukü) were made in a circle about 12 in. in diameter with a frame of tüabi [serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia].  This wood is strong.  Also snowshoes were made of juniper.” (Fowler 1989:121)

Northern Paiute: “Snowshoes with a round frame are used around Sweetwater.  The frame was made of cedar and formed a circle about 14 in. in diameter.” (Fowler 1989:121)

Pit River: “Snowshoes (widE) were almost a necessity for winter travel.  To make the hoop frame a green juniper limb was heated in a fire and bent into a near circle, the ends being spliced and tied together with rawhide.  Cross-lashings were of deer hide with the hair left on.” (Garth 1953:148)

As shelter

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to mountain houses] Semi-subterranean houses were not built.  The houses in the pinenut country (called kani) were built like the houses in the valleys.  They were circular with a frame made of pine branches instead of willows...The poles were tied to the hoop with twisted willow branches or cedar bark...The frame was covered with bark from dead pine or cedar [juniper] trees.  Dry pine needles were heaped (great quantities) over the bark to keep it warm...The pine needles were kept from blowing away by putting dry pine boughs over them...There was a covered entranceway...It was covered with bark and pine needles just as the house was covered....GK lived in one of these houses in the mountains above Yerington (Pine Nut Mountains)…The house was built in the mountains after the pinenuts were harvested.  The house was built in the pine grove owned by a certain family.” (Fowler 1989:93)

Pit River: “Summer camps were little more than circular enclsoures of brush, juniper limbs, or rock, ten or fifteen feet across with an opening on the east side.” (Garth 1953:144)

As a tool

Northern Paiute: “Fish were usually cooked in the ashes of the fireplace, although they could be boiled.  They were dried on a rack or hung from the boughs of a juniper, but were never placed near the fire to dry as was meat.” (Kelly 1932: 97)

Northern Paiute: “The basketry jar was made watertight with juniper or pine gum put on a flat stick, held over the fire, and then rapidly applied to the exterior.  For the inside, four or five small stones were heated and dropped in with some pitch.  The container was shaken vigorously until the whole interior was coated.” (Kelly 1932:124)

Northern Paiute: “Every man made his own bow (adi; now gun).  The Achomawi are said to have used young oak, but the Gidü'tikadü always used juniper.” (Kelly 1932:142)

Northern Paiute: “The Gidü'tikadü had the composite fire drill as did their Nevada relatives.  The shaft (kudza') was of any kind of wood, the tip (sawa'gudsü) of sagebrush...The hearth (wai) was usually of soft juniper and had "any number of holes," usually two to four…” (Kelly 1932:142)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to arrows] Wing feathers (kwigi) of the sage hen, goose, swan, duck, or crow were split, leaving the very tip intact.  They were attached with fish glue or with gum from the juniper or pine.” (Kelly 1932:144)

Northern Paiute: “The Paiute saddle (sadó, from saddle) was described as an affair of soft deer or antelope hide stuffed with deer hair.  It had no wooden or horn frame.  A long loop of 3 1/2-inch deer hide contained the "round" juniper stirrup.” (Kelly 1932:148)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to the roots of kogi (sego lily, Calochortus nuttallii; Calochortus leichtlinii)] ...This tuber was found on the hillsides...A digging stick made of a sharpened piece of juniper is used to get the roots and tubers.” (Fowler 1989:44)

Northern Paiute: “The bow is made of cedar [i.e., juniper (Juniperus occidentalis or J. osteosperma)].  A good strong limb of about 4 ft long is split with a rock…A groove is cut across the two edges at each end of the bow for string which is made of wiha [Apocynum cannabinum].” (Fowler 1989:63)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to bows] Tops of young junipers were taken and split.  They are about 2 in. in diameter and about 4 ft long.  When it was split it was trimmed down.  A bow made from juniper is called wa'adu.  Bow made from oak is called wiəadu.” (Fowler 1989:63)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to bows] Bows made from juniper were usually 4 or 5 ft long.  For smaller game a bow about 3 ft in length was used.  Juniper which was often used in making bows was never heated.” (Fowler 1989:64)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to bows] Bows were made from young juniper.  They were about 3 ft long.  The wood was smoothed with a flintknife.  The wood was dried for about a month before it was smoothed.  The greener the wood the better, they say.  If the wood is old it might break.”  (Fowler 1989:65)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to fire making] The hearth was a flat piece of cedar about 5 in. long...The fire drill point is carried wrapped in a piece of buckskin.  It is kept with the flat cedar hearth in the arrow quiver.  Fine sagebrush bark for tinder was also carried.” (Fowler 1989:75-77)

Northern Paiute: “A fire was started with sagebrush bark as tinder and sagebrush bark.  Then greasewood was used because it did not burn so rapidly.  When people were in the mountains, they used whatever wood was available, mostly cedar, and pine if it could be found.” (Fowler 1989:77)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to horses and tack] The stirrups (nadakadu) were made by cutting a flat piece of juniper and bending it in the shape of a horseshoe.  Buckskin was tied across the ends.” (Fowler 1989:121)

Pit River: “Food storage in trees was especially popular in the eastern area.  In the higher branches of a juniper tree, comparatively free of lower limbs, a platform about ten feet square was built of poles and slabs of bark tied together with serviceberry withes.  The bark often had to be carried a long distance, since pine trees were rare in the Apwaruge area...To prevent mice from climbing the tree, bark was stripped from the lower trunk to make it smooth...In the western area the base of a small tree used for storage was blazed around so that pitch would accumulate and prevent ants from climbing the tree.” (Garth 1953:140)

Pit River: “A third class of basketry was the utility ware, which was necessarily of stronger materials and coarser (often openwork) weave.  To this class belong the scoop-shaped fishing and root-cleaning baskets (kopwar), carrying and storage baskets (honor), fish traps (stoho), cradles, and seed beaters (tĭpwĭrohai)...The most common and strongest material for construction was juniper (mahuawop), but willows might also be used for the warp, and occasionally pine-root served as a weft.  Juniper limbs with few branches were roasted on hot coals and were split into squarish strands about three feet long.” (Garth 1953:150)

Pit River: “A fire drill (yodiqhdi) about two feet long of sagebrush, buckeye, or cedar was used on a juniper-wood hearth (westicis) in which there might be as manay as six drill holes.  The fire maker, usually a man, placed mixed powdered-grass and juniper-bark tinder near the drill hole and rotated the drill between his hands...Hunters often carried a slow match (yololi) of shredded juniper bark tied in a slender bundle about a foot long.” (Garth 1953:155)

Pit River: “[In regards to sinew-backed wooden bows] Young juniper ued for bow; burnt or split; smoothed with pumice.” (Voegelin 1942:191)

Pit River: “[In regards to food wrapped and hung from trees to store it] Food, hides hung up in branches of junipers; popular method of storage.” (Voegelin 1942:180)

Pit River: “[In regards to bows] Generally used; made of white juniper.  "Some men try to put sinew backing on these bows, but sinew always peels off."” (Voegelin 1942:190)

Klamath: “ The common red cedar of the region, often made into bows for boys, rarely in former days into those used by men, the yew being much superior.” (Coville 1897:88)  

Klamath: “There are several forms of rigid baskets made with willow or other sticks, particularly the conical burden basket which was used largely in gathering foods such as wild plums; and the flat, more or less triangular, openwork basket with a handle, used as a sieve and as a grater as well as a general receptacle…..In addition to being made of round willow stems, these baskets are also made of the split roots of the juniper.” (Barrett 1910:256)


Northern Paiute: “Two-ply string was made from the inner bark of sagebrush.  Juniper bark was not used; "it was too soft to be good for anything."” (Kelly 1932:135)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to birth] A "hot bed" (dü'avida; also nadü'nai?) was previously prepared by the woman's mother or grandmother.  It consisted of a large hole containing holes upon which juniper boughs had been stacked, and a blanket was thrown over the whole.” (Kelly 1932:159)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to the drum] The frame was chokecherry, although juniper is more usual.” (Kelly 1932:147)

Northern Paiute: “The bullroarer (kwi'mo, tüsa'ibidun (?)) was a boy's toy as well as a magical device to make the wind blow.  It was made of juniper and decorated with black spots or lines.” (Kelly 1932:177)

Northern Paiute: “In the old days they tried to bring wind to melt the snow.  They used a piece of juniper where the lightning had broken it off.” (Kelly 1932:202)

Northern Paiute: “Porcupine (zagwü'd) was hunted in the junipers in summer.  Sometimes at night a hunter attracted the animal by bearing a torch of juniper or sagebrush.” (Kelly 1932:87)

Northern Paiute: “There are two kinds of edible rats, "tika'wa, which lives under the junipers, and ka'˙wa, which is smaller and lives under small rocks, but not in the hills."” (Kelly 1932:89)

Northern Paiute: “A number of wild plant species are tolerated, encouraged, or even transplanted to yards and fields on the reservation...Those encouraged or tolerated include willow, red-osier dogwood, balsamroot, blazing star, giant wild rye, juniper, bulrush, cattail, biscuitroot, and wild onion.” (Couture et al. 1986:157)

Northern Paiute: “[In regards to tattoos] Greasewood or cedar [juniper] was burned to charcoal.  This was mixed with water until the mixture was very thin.” (Fowler 1989:111)

Pit River: “Sometimes the Apwaruge are called mahuopanī, juniper-tree-people, a name that reflects the dry and barren nature of their territory.” (Garth 153:129)

Pit River: “[In regards to skin dressing] To smoke the buckskin a fire of moist rotten logs or green juniper boughs was made in a shallow pit, over which a dome-shaped framework three or four feet high was constructed of willow wands.  The skin was laid on this frame to smoke and was turned from time to time during the process.” (Garth 1953:147)

Pit River: “A boy was trained by his father or a close relative, who might make a small self bow of juniper wood and teach the boy how to hunt with it.” (Garth 1953:160)

Pit River: “[In regards to the power quest] After the quest the boy gave away the first of each species of animal that he killed, that is, the first deer, the first quail.  Then once each spring, before he could eat epos roots, he had to take a lighted torch of juniper bark and run up a tall hill with it, lighting a series of fires as he went.  At the top he built a big fire.” (Garth 1953:162)

Pit River: “[In regards to mourning] Although the earth lodge might be burned if the owner or his wife died, it was usually abandoned for a year or so, after it had been fumigated with burning juniper branches to drive out the disease and after the two main roof beams (But'hema) had been coated with pitch.” (Garth 1953:166)

Pit River: “Drums (wapumas or wohkoras ?) were used by the Apwaruge but not by the Atsuge…The frame was made from a plat piece of juniper about two inches wide.  The ends were notched so that they could be tied together when the piece was bent into a hoop.  This hoop, about two feet in diameter, was covered with wet rawhide which tightened as it dried.” (Garth 1953:172)

Pit River: “To the north of the Pit lies the high, dry lava county.  It contain a few springs, and there is an abundance of timber ranging from the yellow pine and fir of the west to the sparser juniper of the east.” (Kniffen 1928:300)

Pit River, Klamath: “[In regards to the purification of the house with aromatic plants after a person's death] Juniper.” (Voegelin 1942:231)

Pit River: “[In regards to plant substance stuffed in a girl's nostrils during a girl's puberty ceremony] Juniper.” (Voegelin 1942:218)

Klamath: “While little girls are beginning to play in this way, boys of the same age become interested in the use of the bow and arrow. At first they play with a tiny bow of willow, little more than a toy, which they learn to make form an older boy or from their father. But by the time a boy is six or seven his father presents him with a real bow made from juniper.” (Pearsall 1950:343)

Klamath: “Some children start to use paddles by themselves, too. Adults see them trying to do so and tell them how to kneel in the bottom and dip the paddle in and out of the water without splashing. Light cedar paddles are used, and small ones are made for children.” (Pearsall 1950:348)

Distribution Map: