World Plants Logo

search the world

Perennials > Juniperus > Juniperus deppeana > Juniperus deppeana

Juniperus deppeana

Alligator Juniper, Checkerbark Juniper

Origin:  Southwestern United States of America (Arizona, New Mexico), Mexico (south to Puebla).
            Mike's Opinion

this is Mike


This is a truly fascinating tree! It can live up to 1000 years with a trunk (or trunks) more then 6 m in diameter. In prolonged periods of abnormally low rainfall, it will stop growing and remain dormant until moisture resumes. The Santa Fe Botanical Garden has an Alligator Juniper named, "Allie" who is the star of an educational book entitled, "The Wondrous World of Trees". It also has many other names such as Checkerboard Cedar and Mountain Cedar. As the name suggests, the bark amazingly looks and feels like alligator skin and this makes it a very visually interesting specimen. These trees really create a space of serenity. The foliage is beautiful and its berries are completely edible; they are sweet and wildlife love them. This juniper performs particularly well at high altitudes and in the company of oaks and pines. Although severe reactions are uncommon, the wood has been reported to cause skin and respiratory irritation.

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Tree (evergreen), Shrub (evergreen)
Juniperus mexicana and Juniperus pachyphloea
USDA Hardiness Zone
Canadian Hardiness Zone
7 - 8a
RHS Hardiness Zone
H4 - H5
Temperature (°C)
-12 - (-7)
Temperature (°F)
10 - 20
Up to 25 m
Up to 10 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
Juniperus deppeana is a an evergreen tree or shrub with unique bark that looks like alligator skin, blue-green needles and edible, blue berries that are a wildlife attractant.
Grow in a hot and dry location, full sun, in well-drained, neutral or slightly alkaline soil. Will tolerate a wide range of soils. Grows best in dry climates with hot summers. Do not overwater.
Wide-spreading crown. Single stemmed trees can be pyramidal.
ID Characteristic
Very distinctive bark comprised of square scales, each with a yellowy or transparent spot of residue. There is often more then one leader.
No serious pests or diseases of note.
Open oak or pine woodlands on dry, arid mountain slopes associated with other juniper species and pinyon pines.
Bark/Stem Description
Resembles the rough, checkered skin of an alligator, dark grey-brown, cracked into small square plates with nearly black fissures.
Leaf Description
Needles are arranged in opposite decussate pairs or whorls of three, blue-green, covered with a waxy coating, adult leaves are scale-like.
Flower Description
Plants are monaecious: male flowers are small and pale yellow, forming large clusters at twig terminals; female flowers are similarly sized, round and pale green.
Fruit Description
Fruit is berry-like, round, reddish brown often with a white glaucous bloom, scales often have a blunt point, there are 3 - 5 seeds. Fruit mature in two growing seasons.
By seed requiring a period of cold stratification to induce germination. Subject seeds to a cycle of 3 temperature periods lasting 2 - 3 months each: cold followed by warm and back to cold. Another method is to soak the seeds for 3 - 6 seconds in boiling water. They are best sown as soon as they are ripe and kept in a cold frame. Some may germinate in the spring but most will take up to another year. Harvested seed greens (when the embryo has fully formed but before the seed coat has hardened) may also be used.. Seedlings can be potted individually when they grow large enough to handle. Plant outside in early summer. Dried seeds can remain viable for several years. Propagate by cuttings of mature wood taken in September or October, 5 - 10 cm long with a heel and kept in a cold frame. Plant outside the following autumn. Layer in September / October.
Ethnobotanical Uses (Disclaimer)
Used as a stomach remedy and before and after child birth to relieve bruising and swelling. The Navajo used it to treat diabetes. The wood is used in a multitude of ways, to make fences, posts, decks and furniture to name a few. Fruit mature in two growing seasons and are safe for human consumption, producing a sweet taste; used in tea.