Trees and Shrubs

Juniperus oxycedrus in southern France
Corbère-les-Cabanes (France), April 2005 © Jean Tosti

Prickly Juniper - Ginepro rosso - Juniperus oxycedrus L.

Juniperus oxycedrus (Prickly Juniper, Prickly Cedar, Cade Juniper and Cade - from the French genévrier cade - Sharp Cedar) is a species of juniper, native across the Mediterranean region from Morocco and Portugal, north to southern France, east to westernmost Iran, and south to Israel, growing on a variety of rocky sites from sea level up to 1600 m altitude. The specific epithet oxycedrus means "sharp cedar" and this species may have been the original cedar or cedrus of the ancient Greeks.

Conservation status
Least Concern
Scientific classification
Kingdom:   Plantae
Division:   Pinophyta
Class:   Pinopsida
Order:   Pinales
Family:   Cupressaceae
Genus:   Juniperus
Species:   J. oxycedrus

The plant is very variable in shape, forming a spreading shrub 2-3 m tall to a small erect tree 10-15 m tall. It has needle-like leaves in whorls of three; the leaves are green, 5-20 mm long and 1-2 mm broad, with a double white stomatal band (split by a green midrib) on the inner surface. It is usually dioecious, with separate male and female plants. The seed cones are berry-like, green ripening in 18 months to orange-red with a variable pink waxy coating; they are spherical, 7-12 mm diameter, and have three or six fused scales in 1-2 whorls, three of the scales with a single seed. The seeds are dispersed when birds eat the cones, digesting the fleshy scales and passing the hard seeds in their droppings. The pollen cones are yellow, 2-3 mm long, and fall soon after shedding their pollen in late winter or early spring.

As to be expected from the wide range, it is very variable. One recent study splits it into three species, though other authorities do not accept this:

  • Juniperus oxycedrus L. - Western Prickly Juniper. Southwest Europe, in eastern Portugal and Spain east to southern France, northwest Italy, Corsica, and Sardinia, and northwest Africa from Morocco east to Tunisia. Leaves long (10-20 mm), narrow-based; cones smooth.
  • Juniperus navicularis Gand. (syn. J. oxycedrus subsp. transtagana) - Portuguese Prickly Juniper. Coastal southwest Portugal. Leaves short (5-12 mm); cones smooth.
  • Juniperus deltoides R.P.Adams - Eastern Prickly Juniper. Central Italy east to Iran and Israel. Leaves long (10-20 mm), broad-based; cones with raised scale edges.

An additional variety or subspecies J. oxycedrus var. badia H.Gay (syn. J. oxycedrus subsp. badia (H.Gay) Debeaux) is distinguished on the basis of larger cones (10–13 mm diameter), tinged purple when mature; it is described from northern Algeria, and also reported from Portugal and Spain.

A further species Juniperus macrocarpa, confined to Mediterranean coastal sands, is more distinct but has also often been treated as a subspecies of Prickly Juniper, as J. oxycedrus subsp. macrocarpa; it differs in the broader leaves 2-3 mm wide, and larger cones 12-18 mm diameter.

Other close relatives of J. oxycedrus include Juniperus brevifolia on the Azores, Juniperus cedrus on the Canary Islands and Juniperus formosana in eastern Asia.


Cade oil is the essential oil obtained through destructive distillation of the wood of this shrub. It is a dark, aromatic oil with a strong smoky smell which is used in some cosmetics and (traditional) skin treatment drugs, as well as incense.


  1. Farjon, A. (2005). Monograph of Cupressaceae and Sciadopitys. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 1-84246-068-4
  2. Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Juniperus oxycedrus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  3. Meiggs, R. 1982. Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World.
  4. Adams, R. P. (2004). Junipers of the World. Trafford. ISBN 1-4120-4250-X
  5. Arboretum de Villardebelle: photos of cones and shoots -
  6. Adams, R. P. (2000). Systematics of Juniperus section Juniperus based on leaf essential oils and RAPD DNA fingerprinting. Biochem. Syst. Ecol. 28: 515-528 -" class="external text" title="
  7. Adams, R. P. (2004). Juniperus deltoides, a new species and nomenclatural notes on Juniperus polycarpos and J. turcomanica (Cupressaceae). Phytologia 86: 49-53 -" class="external text" title="
  8. 1911 British Pharmacopaea: Cade Oil -
  9. 1918 US Dispensatory: Cade Oil -

Maroc Atlas vallée de l'Imlil, by Luc Viatour Corbère-les-Cabanes (France), Aprill 2005 by © Jean Tosti Corbère-les-Cabanes (France), April 2005
© Jean Tosti
Cuenca, Spain
Leaves and mature cones, Catalonia Leaves and immature cones, southern France Oasis of Monte Arcosu (Sardinia, Italy) Berries, 2007 - Anthony Saphon



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Created: Tuesday, February 26, 2008; Last updated: Monday, October 15, 2012
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