Juniperus sabina / savin juniper

Juniperus sabina, as described in 1753 by Carolus Linnæus (1707–1778), in Species Plantarum 2, is commonly known as savin or savin juniper; as well as Miter arrunta in the Basque language; Mozhzhevel'nik Kazatskii in Russian; Gyuva in Georgian; Kara archa in Kazakh, Konin-artsa in Mongolian and as Cha zi Yuan Bai in Chinese. The species name refers to its presence in the Sabina, Latium region between Rome and Rieti, Italy.

There are two varieties,

  • Juniperus sabina var. sabina — juvenile foliage is rarely found in adult plants.
  • Juniperus sabina var. davurica (Pallas) Farjon (syn. Juniperus davurica Pallas) — juvenile foliage is frequently present in adult plants.

A hybrid of Juniperus chinensis and Juniperus sabina, known as Juniperus × pfitzeriana (Pfitzer juniper, synonym Juniperus × media), is found in the wild where the two species meet in northwestern China, and is also very common as a cultivated ornamental plant. It is a larger shrub, growing to 10 to 20 feet (3 – 6 m) tall.

Juniperus sabina is a popular ornamental shrub in gardens and parks, with numerous named cultivars selected. In addition, this plant is the alternate (telial) host of the Pear Rust fungus Gymnosporangium fuscum.


Description. Savin juniper is a shrubby, extremely variable, evergreen coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 3 to 12 feet (1 - 4 m) tall, with a trunk typically measuring 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter, measured at breast height. This species is largely dioecious with separate male and female plants, but some individual plants produce both sexes.

  • Crown is broad and flat with spreading branches.
  • Branchlets grow upright and 4-angled, measuring 0.024 to 0.04 inch (0.6 to 1 mm) thick, with an unpleasant, pungent odor when crushed.
  • Bark is reddish brown and fibrous, peeling in strips.
  • Leaves are produced in two forms — juvenile needle-like leaves, each measuring 0.2 to 0.4 inch (5 – 10 mm) long, and adult scale-leaves measuring 0.04 to 0.08 inch (1 – 2 mm) long on slender shoots 0.032 to 0.04 inch (0.8 – 1 mm) thick. Juvenile leaves are found mainly on seedlings but mature shrubs sometimes continue to bear some juvenile leaves as well as adult, particularly on shaded shoots low in the crown. Foliage is dark- to light-green in color with a prominent, oblong resin gland, smooth edges, and a triangular tip pressed against the twig.
  • Pollen cones measure 0.08 to 0.16 inch (2 – 4 mm) long, growing singly at the branch tips. They shed their pollen in early spring.
  • Seed cones are berry-like, measuring 0.2 to 0.36 inch (5 – 9 mm) in diameter. They are Blue-black in color with a whitish waxy bloom, and contain 1 to 3 (rarely 4 or 5) seeds; they are mature about 18 months after pollination.

The foliage and the seeds contain sabinol (a terpenic alcohol) and gallic acid, which is transformed into pyrogallol. Consumption of the foliage causes a severe irritation of all mucous membranes. The sabinol attacks the nervous system, causing convulsions. The pyrogallol blocks the intestinal circuit completely. Death occurs quickly.

natural range of <em>Juniperus sabina </em>
natural range of Juniperus sabina

Distribution. This species is native to the mountains of central and southern Europe and western and central Asia, from Spain east to eastern Siberia, typically growing at elevations of 3,200 to 10,000 feet (1,000 - 3,300 m) above sea level. "It is very tolerant to cold, drought and gases. It has no special requirements regarding soil."

Hardy to USDA Zone 3 — cold hardiness limit between -40° and -30°F (-39.9° and -34.4°C).

Attribution from: Mirko Vidakovic; Conifers: morphology and variation; Translated from Croatian by Maja Soljan; ©1991, Graficki Zavod Hrvatske, Croatia

Juniperus sabina — a mature specimen will seed cones.
Photo by Giuseppe Mazza
Dr. Giuseppe MAZZA 18, boulevard des Moulins - 98000 MONACO - Principato di Monaco Telefono e fax : 00377 -
Juniperus sabina — a closeup of foliage and mature seed cones.
Photo by Jose Angel Campos Sandoval