I worked this wood for two decades when I lived in Texas, cutting hundreds of trees throughout that period. Most people called it Cedar or Juniper because Cedar looks the same unless you are familiar with the differences. Ashe juniper is highly aromatic and so you can be forgiven for calling it cedar, but the strong odour is an extremely powerful insect repellent.
Throughout my Texas life we and those around us used it as winter fuel to heat the house and workshop. We mixed it with live oak for a good combination in providing heat for free. I liked to harvest the wood from wind-blown trees which were plentiful in south Texas.
Juniperus ashei (Ashe Juniper) is extremely drought tolerant and grows as a large shrub or small tree. Though native to northeastern Mexico and the south-central US north to southern Missouri, Texas alone boast the largest growth range in the US where extensive stands occur. It grows up to 30 feet tall and though this species provides good erosion control and prodigious year-round ground cover for every species of wildlife such as javelina, mountain lion, whip-poor-will, rattle snake and hundreds more.
The feathery sprays of dense foliage grows year round as a bright evergreen, almost yellow in color some times and brown when male trees are filled with pollen. The scale-like leaves are 1/8th to ¼” long on round shoots. Ashe juniper is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. You can see the difference between male and female plants by the colour of the leaves. The seed cones are globose to oblong, about the same size as the small leaves and soft, pulpy and berry-like, starting out as green and maturing purple in about 8 months after pollination. Each seed contains 1-2 seeds, which fall when ripe and are eaten by birds such as cedar waxwings, mocking birds and many others that disperse the seed in their droppings. The male cones are the same length as the female cones but more yellow at first and turning brown after pollination, which occurs mid to late winter.
Some people I knew were highly allergic to the pollen, which puthers in bursts from the tree as the sun’s heat causes the fibrous substance to expand and explode. This allergy peaks in the winter months starting in January. Ashe juniper is also locally known in different areas as “mountain cedar” though this species is not a true cedar. Most locals refer to the allergy as cedar fever because the symptoms though highly varied cause flu-like symptoms including high temperatures.
The wood from the Ashe Juniper is a naturally oily and highly rot resistant and it’s this that provided successive generations of fence posts for over a hundred years of Texas ranching. Old ranchers I knew had used Juniper fence posts from old or virgin-growth Ashe junipers for more than 50 years. Old-growth Ashe junipers also provided early telegraph poles and railroad ties that linked towns and houses across vast tracts of Texas ranchland. I remember finding downed posts with glass or porcelain carriers when I went to cut mesquites.
Ashe Juniper grows as a native North American hardwood and hard it is. It splits easily and has only minima value as a furniture wood. But through the years I turned thousands of pieces as a woodturner, making my living from the free resource surrounding me. People enjoyed the aromatic wood and kept it in the house to dispel moths and insects, though I never knew whether it actually would.