Know your wood #27 – Ashe Juniper

Ashe Juniper

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.

5 Comments

  1. lucky daye on 10 February 2016 at 3:32 am

    Here in central Texas I like ashe juniper for firewood you can throw in some pieces on coals in the morning and it will lite up like fuel oil and burn very hot old fence posts work great



    • Paul Sellers on 10 February 2016 at 1:51 pm

      Well here’s a truth:
      Me, “I was looking for some mesquite firewood.”
      Old Texas Rancher,”No, y’ain’t.”
      Me,”Sir?”
      Old Texas Rancher, “What yer want is mesquite mixed with live oak ‘n’ then some cedar fence posts fer added heat.”
      Me, “Really?”
      Old Texas Rancher,”Yup! Burns hotter ‘n’ hell in a Texas August drought.”



  2. Thomas Hanson on 15 January 2018 at 1:06 pm

    I was reared in the South, USA that is. Cedar chests were made of Juniper, which everyone, and I mean everyone, called Cedar. These were where the valuable hand made quilts were stored for the summer to prevent moths and other bugs from ruining. It always worked. I just wondered if real cedar did the same thing, and whether we were all just whistling Dixie.



    • Paul Sellers on 15 January 2018 at 1:42 pm

      There can no doubt that the oils in Ashe Juniper, what you are calling Juniper and most call cedar in the South is the most potent moth excluder/expellant there is. We used to sell blocks call ~Texas moth balls to put in drawers. Eastern red cedar boards lined walk-in closets and so too Western red cedar. great smells.



  3. Keith Bruner on 16 January 2018 at 12:07 am

    I live in Port Hardy, the north end of Vancouver Island. We have plenty of western cedar in the area, the natives use it carve mask, and canoes and totem poles as well as many more items. It is a soft wood with quite a strong odor, And is used in gardens and other areas as an insect repellant.