Definitions

Juniperus bermudiana

Juniperus bermudiana

Juniperus bermudiana is a species of juniper endemic to Bermuda. In Bermuda and elsewhere this species is most commonly known as Bermuda cedar although it is not a true cedar (Cedrus, family Pinaceae); a more botanically accurate name would be Bermuda Juniper, although this is not in popular use anywhere.

It is an evergreen tree growing up to 15 m tall with a trunk up to 60 cm thick (larger specimens existed in the past) and thin bark that exfoliates in strips. The foliage is produced in blue-green sprays, with the individual shoots 1.3-1.6 mm wide, four sided (quadriform) in section. The leaves are scale-like 1.5-2.5 mm long (up to 4 mm long on strong-growing shoots) and 1-1.5 mm broad, with an inconspicuous gland; they are arranged in opposite decussate pairs, occasionally decussate whorls of three. Juvenile plants bear needle-like leaves 4-8 mm long. The seed cones are irregularly globose to broad pyriform, 4-6 mm long and 5-8 mm broad, soft and berry-like, green at first, maturing bluish-purple about 8 months after pollination; they contain one or two (rarely three) seeds. The male cones are 4-6 mm long, yellow, turning brown after pollen release in early spring.

Ecology

A threat to the continued existence of Bermuda's junipers arose in the mid-1940s when the species was attacked by two species of scale insects, Lepidosaphes newsteadi and Carulaspis minima, which were unintentionally introduced from the United States' mainland. By 1978, these predators had killed 99% of Bermuda's junipers, some 8 million trees. However, the remaining 1% of the trees proved somewhat resistant to the scale insects, and efforts by Bermuda's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Parks to plant young junipers from this resistant strain throughout Bermuda have saved the trees from extinction.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Casuarina (Casuarina equisetifolia, also known as Horsetail Tree and Australian Pine), native to Australia, was introduced into Bermuda to replace the Bermuda Cedar's windbreak functions. However in Bermuda, casuarinas have proved to be highly aggressive, and no other plants are able to survive beneath them. Still, like the Bermuda Cedar, the casuarina's foliage is resistant to wind and salt, and these features have made casuarinas popular with gardeners in Bermuda. Other species introduced in an attempt to replace the juniper forest included the Bay Grape (Coccoloba uvifera). Along with the Casuarina, the juniper's main introduced competitor for space is the Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius).

The species is occasionally grown as an ornamental tree outside of Bermuda, and may have become naturalised on Hawaii and Saint Helena. It is reported that more than 6,500 of them were planted in Hawaii between 1921 and 1953, and that it has established wild populations there.

Uses and history

It is known for its heavy, sweet aroma, useful and attractive reddish timber, significant role in Bermuda's history, and notable presence in Bermuda's historic homes.

When English settlers arrived in Bermuda, forests of Bermuda cedar flourished throughout the islands, and the species continued to thrive even as settlers developed the land. The wood was utilized by settlers for widely varying purposes including home, church, jail, and ship-building, interior woodworking, furniture construction, coffin-making, and export for sale. In addition, the cones were used by settlers as food for both themselves and their animals, and to prepare cedarberry syrup as a treatment for toothaches and coughs. Settlers also boiled the shoots in water to create an elixir for lowering fevers. Furthermore, the wood was found to repel moths and fleas as well as prevent mildew and rot, so many Bermuda residents used the wood to line closets and drawers.

The wood was especially prized by ship-builders. It could be worked as soon as it was felled, and was naturally resistant to rot and woodworms. It was a strong as oak, but much lighter, contributing to the speed and maneouverability for which Bermudian ships were noted and prized. Its abundance enabled Bermudians to turn wholesale to a maritime economy after the dissolution of the Somers Isles Company in 1684.

In 1627, in an effort to conserve Bermuda's juniper forests, the local assembly passed legislation to restrict export of Bermuda Cedar for shipbuilding. In addition, between 1693 and 1878, the Bermuda legislature passed sixteen further acts placing restrictions on the uses of Bermuda Cedar. Despite these Acts, the ship-building industry eventually denuded much of Bermuda's landscape by the 1830s. Only the dawn of the age of steam-driven, steel-hulled ships allowed the forest to recover.

Many historic homes in Bermuda feature interior woodwork and furnishings made from Bermuda cedar. Examples of these homes include the Mayflower House, Camden House, Tucker House, and Verdmont House, the latter of which, according to the Bermuda National Trust, contains the colony's finest collection of antique Bermuda cedar furnishings. Because it is now both scarce, and expensive, and it is featured in many grand homes, its scent has come to be associated with wealth.

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